Following police raids at high-profile Tbilisi club Bassiani and Café Gallery early Saturday morning, thousands of clubbers took to the steps of Georgia's Parliament building on Saturday afternoon, staging a protest rave against what activists say are draconian nightclub crackdowns.
Ateq, Sa Pa and DJ Dustin played to massive crowds who blocked Rustavali Avenue.
The raids were ostensibly conducted in response to drug deaths over the previous weeks, and eight alleged drug dealers were arrested. However, the timing of the arrests—coming on 10PM on Friday, several hours before Bassiani and Café Gallery were stormed—calls the validity of the arrests into question. Protesters claim the raids were nothing more than a show of force. Georgian special forces raided the clubs armed with machine guns. Later scenes showed police violently clashing with protesters, who were dragged away and arrested.
Police reportedly arrested the demonstration's leaders, two of whom were detained as they gave live TV interviews. Bassiani cofounders Tato Getia and Zviad Gelbakhiani were also arrested on Friday. Counter protests by far right ultra nationalists also sprang up, with members of the Georgian National Unity party launching attempted attacks against demonstrators.
— Giorgi Gogia (@Giorgi_Gogia) May 14, 2018
Protesters were undeterred, setting up tents in the rain as day turned to night, calling for the resignation of Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia. The Interior Ministry authorised the raids, saying it had established "facts of drug trade in Bassiani and Gallery nightclubs."
By day two, the music had largely died down, replaced with speeches and rallying cries like "This country belongs to us!" Interior Minister Gakharia met with protesters at around 10:30PM on Sunday. He apologised, promising changes to the law.
"We will in detail look at what happened on Friday," he said, promising "that we will achieve concrete results in the country’s narcotics policy." Georgia has a zero tolerance policy with drugs.
His speech marked the end of protests. We'll continue to update you on this story as it develops.
— Eknor (@eknora) May 13, 2018
— Sophio Datishvili (@sofie_sopo) May 13, 2018
— Neil Hauer (@NeilPHauer) May 12, 2018
Header image via @TrogozubleRAVI