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27 Aug, 2009 07:55

Georgia’s Interior Ministry warns people to refrain from protests

Georgian refugees from the war in South Ossetia say they're being told not to take part in street protests. Some of them were sent letters from the Internal Affairs Ministry in Tbilisi warning them against participating.

For more than a year Georgian refugees who fled last year’s battle zones near South Ossetia have been living in what used to be army barracks. The taps leak and the ceilings are caving in. They’re afraid to show their faces on camera, but off camera they’re angry and blame their government.

However, not many of them make it to the streets of Tbilisi, where thousands of protestors have for months been calling on the government to step down. It’s not because they don’t want to. It’s because they’ve been warned not to.

The warning came in a letter from the Ministry of Internal Affairs signed by the chief of the Tbilisi police and addressed to thousands of people by name.

“Mr Nick, we have information that during the protest some extremist groups are going to manage provocations and we appeal to you not to take part in these actions,” Kakha Kukava from the Conservative Party of Georgia reads to RT from the letter he got.

Kakha says the talk about terrorist actions is just an excuse – the letters are part of the government’s campaign to intimidate, harass and unlawfully imprison those who oppose it.
His party is keeping the documents as evidence for a future legal suit.

“It’s a very rare case when we have official and open evidence of those intimidations because mainly police choose to phone people, to send them some people and to intimidate them unofficially, but it is very important evidence in a legal sense, because after a few months or when it is the trial of the Saakashvilli regime, it will be one of the most important pieces of evidence against them,” says Kakha.

Journalist Salome Gogokhia is also gathering evidence. She has spent weeks getting to know the refugees and slowly earning their trust.

“Everybody here wanted to join the street protests against the government, but those who got the letters didn’t dare. They stayed at home. Only a few people went in the end. The pressure was not only on those who the letters were addressed to, but their whole families. I know one woman who still went to demonstrate, she was fired from her job and her family now faces many problems,” says Salome.

When RT tried to get an official position on the matter, the official word from the Ministry of Internal Affairs was “no comment”. While it’s impossible to deny the existence of these letters, no-one seems to be prepared to take responsibility for them.