Georgian Opposition Claims Government Rights Violations
Tbilisi rounded up suspected dissidents after rebel offensive
TBILISI, GEORGIA — IA IASHVILI, a teacher from the Institute for Foreign Languages, decided on a recent afternoon to give herself a treat. After morning classes, she bought some precious figs and went to a colleague's apartment to share them over tea.
Then came a knock on the door. ``We looked out and saw two miltiamen, one in uniform and one without,'' the teacher recalls. The police explained that her friend was wanted for questioning, and asked Ms. Iashvili to accompany them.
The two women were taken to a police station and interrogated. ``The questions were rather foolish: who I love, the former president or the current one,'' Iashvili says. ``I said `I don't love either one. I love only my family and God.' ''
The two were arrested and transferred to the military commandant's office in Tbilisi, where they were held with about 20 other people in a large room. Iashvili saw 30 more people in other rooms. After a couple of hours, she was released through the intervention of the Green Party, one of the more active liberal voices in Georgian politics.
But many others, including her friend, who were picked up in a wave of arrests on Oct. 6, remain in custody, most without charges filed against them. All are suspected of being supporters of exiled former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who was ousted in fierce fighting in January 1992. State of emergency
The current repression was triggered by an offensive of pro-Gamsakhurdia rebels from their base in western Georgia, which by early October was threatening to topple the government of Eduard Shevardnadze. On Sept. 20, Mr. Shevardnadze imposed a state of emergency, a response in part to growing violence and lawlessness in the country.
After the state of emergency was established, ``they started rounding people up,'' a Western diplomat here says. ``The most vocal Zviadists,'' as followers of the former president are called, ``were picked up almost immediately,'' among them the editor of the pro-Gamsakhurdia weekly Iberia Spektr, a frequent target of past repressions. The Western diplomat was shown a list of about 60 names of arrestees by Georgian government officials.
Shevardnadze and other Georgian officials insist they carried out arrests only under state of emergency regulations. ``It is illegal to arrest people only for political points of view,'' Shevardnadze said in an interview in his Tbilisi office on Oct. 28. ``I consider these actions unacceptable. Those who do arrest them are pro-Gamsakhurdia because this is not our policy.''
But in the case of Iashvili's friend and two other arrestees, who remain in custody but whose families agreed to discuss their cases on condition of anonymity, there is little evidence that the arrests were carried out for anything but political ideas.
``She was a supporter of Gamsakhurdia but she never does anything,'' Iashvili says of her friend. ``In her mind she thinks this government hasn't done anything good. But people shouldn't be arrested for what is in their minds.'' The lady in question is 67 years old, a senior instructor at the foreign languages institute.
``The whole institute was shocked,'' she adds. ``She wouldn't hurt a fly.''
In another case, two men, one an unemployed engineer, the other a gas worker, recently returned from working in the Russian north. The two men were friends and did not make a secret of their anti-Shevardnadze and pro-Gamsakhurdia feelings. Family members say the police told them the two were turned in by neighbors.
``He just read newspapers,'' the engineer's daughter says of her father. ``Maybe he went to meetings.'' The daughter, a Shevardnadze supporter, cries as she recounts how a police interrogator slapped her and accused of her being a ``Zviadist'' when she went to try to get her father released. ``What kind of government is this if they are afraid of my father,'' she asks bitterly.
In the West, Shevardnadze is a respected figure, remembered for his role as Mikhail Gorbachev's foreign minister, as the man who broke down the barriers between East and West.
Always charming and self-effacing, Shevardnadze won the affection of many Western leaders who saw him as the archetype of the new, democratic Soviet politician. Checkered past
The Georgian leader's image at home, however, is more complex. He returned to power in March 1992 and was welcomed by many Georgians as the only man who could end the political turmoil that brought the country to civil war. Mr. Gamsakhurdia, though he swept his country's first popular election in 1991, had lost much of his following when his extreme nationalism turned into paranoia and persecution of his opposition.
Georgians know Shevardnadze as the former head of Georgia's branch of the KGB who rose to be Communist Party boss. He still tends to rely on his old associates, some here complain. Recently, for example, he appointed Igor Georgadze, a veteran KGB official, as the new Georgian security minister.
Arguably, Shevardnadze is operating under circumstances that are not conducive to democratic rule. The country is riven by two civil wars. He has been forced to rely for support on men like Jaba Ioseliani, whose paramilitary Mkhedrioni (Horsemen) militia is widely considered responsible for violent crime and other offenses.
At the same time, Shevardnadze was under considerable pressure from Georgians to restore order, particularly in the capital where gunfire from armed gangs occurs nightly.
``Most Georgians in Tbilisi are perfectly happy to have those dissidents rounded up,'' the Western diplomat comments. ``There's no widespread belief in civil liberties or democracy here.''