Arrests near ABL (photo, Khurvaleti, Jelger Groeneveld)

[2020 archive] Arrests near ABL South Ossetia

Georgian civilians living around the Administrative Boundary Line frequently experience arrests, abduction and detention by Russian or South Ossetian “border guards” for alleged violation and trespassing of the “border”.

This is the archived 2020 page, click here for the current running year

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28 December 2020

It was only on the 21st of January 2021 South Ossetian authorities released information a Georgian citizen of 27 years old was detained near Akhmaji (Akhalgori district) on 28 December 2020 for “illegally crossing the border”.

In another propaganda spin, the South Ossetian authorities used this case to project an image of society and economical desperation in Tbilisi administered territory: the Georgian detainee has been quoted by the Ossetian KGB as saying he “illegally crossed the South Ossetian-Georgian border in the hope of finding a job and staying for further residence in South Ossetia”. He allegedly said that he did not intend to return to Georgia and demonstratively spoiled his identity document. The KGB also punned to Tbilisi “given the complex epidemiological and socio-political situation in Georgia, the Tbilisi regime should pay more attention to the problems of the population, which is forced to engage in illegal activities.”


24 December 2020

The detention in Tskhinvali of 33-year-old Zaza Gakheladze was extended by two months on 24 December 2020.  He was detained by South Ossetian forces at the dividing line on 11 July 2020, on charges of illegally crossing the “border” and opening fire at “border guards”. The detainee was wounded during the arrest (see more below at 11 July).

Acting State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Tea Akhvlediani criticized the step as “continuation of destructive policy”, yet also highlighted that Mirian Taziashvili of 63 years was released on 22 December. He was detained on 20 November (see below) near Zardiantkari. On 4 December he was sentenced to two months prison in Tskhinvali.

20 November 2020

A Georgian citizen was arrested and detained near Zardiantkari, Georgia’s State Security Service said. No further details were provided, the EUMM hotline was activated. The South Ossetian authorities used this and another case of 11 November in a new propaganda wave at the end of the month, portraying a desperate situation in Tbilisi administered Georgia which allegedly makes people want to go to South Ossetia, or provide food assistance from the South Ossetian side:

“According to the detainees, due to the spread of coronavirus infection, their relatives have lost their jobs and have no means of livelihood, and the Georgian leadership, busy with political confrontation after the parliamentary elections, has withdrawn itself from providing assistance to the population surviving in a pandemic. The reason for the transition in the [20 November Zardiantkari] case was the extremely low standard of living in this Georgian border settlement and the lack of elementary means of subsistence.”

A few days later, the South Ossetian authorities claimed to have detained two more Georgians, citing similar reasons of the detainees to “flee” to South Ossetia: “the lack of conditions for existence, the impossibility of employment, and meager pensions. This fact once again confirms the unwillingness of the Georgian authorities to deal with the problems of their population”. 

However, the situation in Akhalgori district where the Georgian population has been actively obstructed in their interaction with Tbilisi administered territory, has resulted in an increasing exodus of the local (Georgian) population. According to Democracy Research Institute 280 people have applied for relocation through the “Family Reunification Program”. Obviously denied as “fake news” by the South Ossetian authorities. But in fact, despite arguing the numbers, they confirmed dozens have already left the region through the program, having been “transported to Georgia for permanent residence”. Only a handful of people relocated to South Ossetia through this program. DRI summarizes the program and its conditions:

“The de facto South Ossetian government’s “Family Reunification” programme is a “legal” way of removing ethnic Georgians from Akhalgori. Anyone wishing to leave Akhalgori must first pay all utility bills and fines and submit the relevant documents to the local security service. In addition, it is necessary for them to obtain documents proving that their families are really waiting for them on the other side of the so-called border. The most important and dangerous part of the programme is the content of the “exit document”, according to which, the person leaving the district will not be allowed to return and will not reclaim the property he/she is leaving in Akhalgori.”

Reportedly on 24 November 2020 a Georgian citizen from Tbilisi “was detained by the border authorities of the republic for violating the regime of the State Border of the Republic of South Ossetia, on the southeastern outskirts of Tskhinvali. On the same morning, Beridze drove to the outskirts of the border settlement of Ditsi Gori municipality of Georgia, headed towards the South Ossetian-Georgian State Border and crossed it in the fuel and energy complex market area of ​​Tskhinvali. Having approached the stationary traffic police post of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of South Ossetia, the offender informed the law enforcement officers about crossing the border, motivating his actions with a desire to obtain political asylum and citizenship of the Republic of South Ossetia.” he was released and handed over to Georgian authorities on 1 December.

29 October 2020

According to the NGO Democracy Research Institute, a teacher from an Akhalgori secondary school has been detained, on charges of collaborating with the Georgian security forces and providing information about the Russian military unit to the Georgian side. The teacher is not known for any (political) activism.

25 September 2020

Georgian citizen Khvicha Mgebrishvili, who had been illegally detained by Russian-controlled forces for 85 days was released. This was agreed upon at the 97th IPRM meeting in Ergneti the day before. During this meeting a Russian helicopter violated Georgian airspace. It was allegedly spotted near Ergneti. Shortly after his release Mgebrishvili stated:

“I was going to Artsevi, when they arrested me and took me to Tskhinvali. I was treated well, I had no problem. Statements about bats, Americans and the lab are nonsense. I do not even speak English” 

28 August 2020

A 28 year old resident of South Ossetia was allegedly tortured to death on 28 August in a Tskhinvali police station after he was arrested on charges of attempting to kill the region’s de facto Interior Minister Igor Naniev. The death caused massive public outcry in Tskhinvali, after which the de facto prosecutor general offered to resign, on condition MPs’ who led the protests would also resign. In the aftermath, de facto President Bibilov dismissed the government. Yet protesters demanded Bibilov to resign, which he refused saying “I have not been elected by 500 people”.

21 August 2020

On 21 August de facto authorities in South Ossetia reported Khvicha Mghebrishvili, who was arrested on 3 July for “violating the state border”, was sentenced to 3 months detention (more background at 12 July below). This triggered concerns from both the Georgian government and his relatives. On 3 September Mghebrishvili’s family asked the Georgian government to take more effective steps to secure his release, while the International Red Cross has not been allowed access to Mghebrishvili to confirm his condition:

“I hope that our government will do it’s best to release our family member from Russia-occupied Tskhinvali prison. Nobody tells us whether Khvicha is alive or not. We ask the Georgian government to support us as it helped the family members of Georgian doctor Vazha Gaprindashvili, who was also abducted by occupation forces in November of 2019”

In an article at Radio Tavisupleba the verdict was described as a “legal absurdity”. It says, Khvicha Mghebrishvili “was tried by the Tskhinvali de facto court under the first part of Article 322 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation“. Article 322 says:

“Illegal entry of foreign nationals into the Russian Federation, their illegal stay in the territory of the Federation or illegal transit through the territory of the Russian Federation is punishable by imprisonment for up to 5 years or restriction of liberty for up to two years”. 

So, a judge of the Tskhinvali “court” sentenced Mghebrishvili for “violating the state border of the Russian Federation”, which is an absurdity. Even when one would consider South Ossetia’s self declared (independent) status from the point of view of the Tskhinvali de facto court. Mghebrishvili was detained near the boundary line between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali controlled territory, near the Adzvistavi village, nowehere near the Russian Federation.

30 July 2020

On 30 July 2020 the 96th EUMM facilitated Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meeting took place. It was the first IPRM meeting in 11 months, after the South Ossetian side cancelled further meetings when Tbilisi refused to remove a police post near Tsnelisi village in August 2019. The most important topic for Tbilisi was the unconditional release of three citizens which were recently put in detention in Tskhinvali. Radio Tavispuleba spoke with various people about the result of the meeting.

IPRM Ergneti 30 July 2020
IPRM Ergneti 30 July 2020 (photo: EUMM Georgia)

25 July 2020

According to Radio Tavisupleba, Georgian citizen Malkhaz Lezhava was detained by Russian controlled forces on 25 July 2020 near the Church of the Mother of God between Mejvriskhevi and Russian controlled Ghromi. The State Security Service of Georgia stated he has been set free and put in quarantine in the territory controlled by the central government of Georgia.

12 July 2020 (Mgebrishvili case)

On 12 July it got public knowledge (in Georgia) a Georgian citizen from Mejvriskhevi was arrested on 3 July by “occupying forces” near the ABL at Adzvi and put in COVID-19 quarantaine for two weeks. The de facto South Ossetian authorities reported on this on 10 July. On 19 July it was confirmed Khvicha Mghebrishvili remains in detention after clearing his 14 days quarantaine.

On 16 July the State Security Committee of South Ossetia reported Mgebrishvili not only “violated the State border” but that “he intended to get the so-called bat cocoons for sale in Georgia”.  According to the report came forward with this explanation himself, as reason to “violate the border”.  The South Ossetian de facto authorities already had a convenient story ready to join this explanation,  connecting it with the activities of the Lugar biolab in Tbilisi (once again):

“Regarding the testimony of Kh.A. Mgebrishvili, it is necessary to clarify that the bats living in the Republic of South Ossetia – Pointed-eared bat, like the rest of the bats, are viviparous and do not build any nests, cocoons and other shelters. At the same time, there is an increased interest in the population of South Ossetian bats mice, since 2012, has been showing the so-called. R. Lugar “Center for Public Health “

“In 2018, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), together with the Lugar Center, as a field laboratory, is implementing a US $ 2.9 million project on bats and coronaviruses. The program is designed for 5 years and is implemented with the help of NGOs” Eco Health Alliance “.

In this regard, the KGB of the Republic of South Ossetia emphasizes that the bat, Myotis blythi, inhabiting the territory of South Ossetia, is listed in the Red Book of the Republic of South Ossetia. Thus, any cross-border activity related to its extraction and illegal movement outside the Republic is qualified in accordance with Articles 258.1 and 226.1 of the Criminal Code and entails a corresponding criminal penalty in the form of imprisonment.

In other words, also in Mgebrishvili’s case just as with others recently a second crime is attached to the “border violation”, typically a more serious crime, up for long prison sentence.

The Head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health of Georgia under which the Lugar Lab resides, explained such a program investigating the relationship between bats and corona viruses does exists. But that the Center’s uses zoo-entomologists, not ordinary citizens as Tskhinvali suggests, in sample collection works. Gamkrelidze slammed the information released the region’s KGB as “lies” and “staged provocation.”

11 July 2020 (Gakheladze case)

IPN and others reported a Georgian citizen from Kvemo Chala was shot, arrested and taken by “occupying forces” from allegedly Tbilisi controlled territory near Skhivo Fortress, ~500 metres beyond the Administrative Boundary Line. According to local reports, he was injured which the State Security Service of Georgia confirmed.

According to South Ossetian de facto authorities the 33 year old Gakheladze crossed the ABL near Akhmaji and shot at the “border guards”. Return fire was the cause of his injuries, according to the State Security Committee of South Ossetia. Relatives said Gakheladze and his friend (who could escape) were picking mushrooms in the fields near the Skhvilo Fortress. They have frequently sighted Russian controlled “border guards” roaming around the Fortress which is Tbilisi controlled area.

Gakheladze was transported to Tskhinvali after a short stay in Akhalgori.  The Georgian MFA and the American Embassy both reacted with statements on the incident.

“Such a dangerous and unjustified incident would not have happened if Russia had fulfilled its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of the armed forces from pre-conflict positions and access to unhindered access to humanitarian aid. “

Meanwhile the Red Cross is trying to get to Gakheladze and information about his well being, as they are the only international organization with direct access to South Ossetia. By 14 July they still had no access to Gakheladze.

On 17 July the South Ossetian de facto authorities stated Gakheladze is charged with two crimes: “illegal crossing of the State Border and encroachment on the life of a law enforcement officer of the Criminal Code of the Russian FederationFurthermore, the press service of the regional KGB gave a rambling lecture written like an op-ed over the reasons why Georgia “whips up excitement”. it also takes aim again at the EUMM mission: “the mission decided to “actively” observe, while making biased but beneficial statements for Georgia”

A day later on 18 July the military prosecutor of South Ossetia stated Gakheladze shot at least five times at the border guards before being shot himself, while “moving deep into the territory of South Ossetia”. The latter is contrary to multiple statements of relatives and Gakheladze’s friend who was able to escape. 

Gahkeladze was transferred from hospital to an isolator in Tskhinvali, Georgian media reported on 26 July 2020. On 27 July the Red Cross is expected to visit Gakheladze, something it has been trying to do from the beginning. The ICRC is the only international organization allowed and active in South Ossetia.

07 July 2020

A Georgian citizen who was detained for several months by Russian-controlled occupation forces for ‘illegally crossing the border’ was released on 7 July. She will return to her family after spending two weeks in the quarantine zone.

21 June 2020

IPN and others reported on 21 June 2020: “Occupying forces detained a 60 year old shepherd on the outskirts of the village of Akhalubani on the perimeter of the dividing line on the territory of Gori Municipality”.  The shepherd was taken to Tskhinvali before being released the same day and transferred to Georgian authorities.

“Jumber Psitidze, a resident of Akhalubani, was grazing cattle with two villagers, during which armed uniforms appeared and he was arrested. The two shepherds who were with him managed to escape. According to the relatives of the detainee, the shepherds did not move to the occupied territories and the cattle were in the territory controlled by the central government of Georgia”.

07 May 2020

The South Ossetian “State Security Committee” reported 30 “border violations” for April 2020, down from 41 in March. Most people were simply fined. An “increase of uncontrolled cattle grazing near the state border” was observed. 

16 April 2020

Relatives of Data Vanishvili, a nationally well known local of Khurvaleti, have been detained by Russian controlled forces. They were on Georgian controlled territory  for several days. Data Vanishvili told VOA Georgia that first his grandson, who was on his way to Akhalgori, was arrested. The next day soldiers of the Russian military went to his house and pulled out his grandson’s wife.  Reportedly, the two were first taken to Akhalgori for detention. Subsequently they were transported to Tskhinvali for medical isolation in line with local policies regarding the coronavirus pandemic. After the quarantaine a trial will decide about the penalty for “illegally crossing the border”. They were released on 3 May 2020 after fulfilling a 2-week quarantaine.

Voice of America Georgia interviewed Data Vanishvili:

The de facto authorities in Tskhinvali claimed Georgian media distorted the story: “Due to the fact that Georgian citizens who were contacted by Vanishvili’s spouse could be carriers of the virus and in order to prevent the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic entering South Ossetia, a decision was made to isolate them for up to 14 days in the Tskhinval medical institution”. They also highlighted another recent case, painting Georgians negatively:

“In addition, the KGB is seriously concerned about the situation surrounding the observance of the right to life of ethnic Ossetians living in Georgia. So, on April 16, having violated the state border regime, a citizen of the Republic of South Ossetia and South Ossetia, an ethnic Ossetian with two minor children, arrived in South Ossetia from Georgia. Having not received protection in the law enforcement bodies of Georgia, fleeing regular domestic violence against her and children by her husband, a Georgian by nationality, she was forced to cross the state border and turn to the leadership of South Ossetia.”


Separately, according to the annual report of the Georgian State Security Service released on 16 April, 86 citizens were “illegally detained” in 2019 by South Ossetian de facto authorities (and 27 by Abkhazia).

13 April 2020

In its monthly report on “state border violations” the KGB of South Ossetia warned that everyone in the “border zone” (a one km wide zone along the ABL) needs to “obtain permits for economic, fishing and other activities”. (such as access to arable land, hunting, etc.)

It notes “increasing facts of uncontrolled cattle grazing near the state border of the Republic of South Ossetia, which entail a violation of the state border regime and the border zone of South Ossetia”. In other words, farmers on either side of the ABL have to control their cattle better or obtain permits to be in the “border zone”.

06 March 2020

In February 2020, 38 violators of “border regime” were detained at various sections of the “state border of South Ossetia”, the KGB of South Ossetia reported. This is up from 36 in January 2020. 

Subsequently, 26 people were fined, 5 were subjected to an administrative fine with expulsion from South Ossetia, 2 were expelled from the region without penalties (under Art. 14 of the Law “On the State Border of South Ossetia”), 3 were warned, and two violators were not punished.

05 March 2020

A woman has been arrested and taken by militia from South Ossetia near the Administrative Boundary Line at the village of Bershueti. She has been transported to Tskhinvali for detention. The EUMM hotline has been activated. (see also 1TV, 05-03-2020)

27 February 2020

A local Georgian resident (Eldar Gundishvili, 70) has been detained by Russian border troops near his village of Adzvi.  The EU Monitoring Mission has been informed of the incident and the emergency hotline has been activated. Georgia’s Foreign Minister Zalkaliani will raise the issue at the next Ergneti IPRM and Geneva GID meetings. The citizen was released the next day. It was his third arrest.

22 February 2020

Sixteen year old Alika Shiukashvilki (turning 17 in March) was arrested at the Administrative Boundary Line near the village of Kirbali, and first taken to the Gromi (Russian) FSB base before being detained overnight in Tskhinvali. As is the standard procedure, the EUMM hotline was activated. The next day he was released.

Allegedly he “was collecting firewood in the forest together with his fellow-villagers when gunmen appeared.” His companions managed to escape, while he was taken by so-called “border guards”.

Abduction: Teenager from Kirbali village detained by Russian forces
Abduction and arrest: Teenager from Kiribali village detained by Russian forces (photo source: Qartli)

Activist Davit Katsarava provided information at the village about an SOS button he has been proposing. This is a device that can identify and geolocate where a civilian is. On Facebook and Radio Tavisupleba he said that if the residents of the occupation line have such technical equipment, it will be easy to find them in case of abduction. He is looking for additional funding for this project, with each button costing 110 USD.

More information:
Caucasian Knot

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