vano merabishvili

Former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili held a speech in court about his police reforms. (Interpressnews.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–The trial against former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili for the violent dispersal of an anti-government protest in 2011 will begin November 19.

It was on May 26, 2011, that an anti-government protest in front of parliament was brutally dispersed in order to clear the way for a military parade marking Independence Day.

Tens of people were injured and at least four people died. Two of them died during the dispersal, and the next day, two corpses were found on a roof top in unclear circumstances. One more death is by some attributed to the May 26 violence.

Merabishvili is on trial for the way the dispersal was handled; that it was a punitive action against people whose opinions differed from those of the government.

A number of questions remain unanswered when it comes to the May 26, 2011, violence, one of them being the presence of forces that were not part of the police, but a vigilante group that had been seen days earlier attacking the same protesters.

Another unanswered question is the arrest of four photographers on spy charges, apparently as punishment for documenting the May 26 violence. They were later released in a plea bargain deal, but the case remains secret.

To many Georgians, Merabishvili is the man who enforced the indirect authoritarian rule Saakashvili established, where most people were afraid of doing or saying anything critical of the ruling National Movement party. The ultimate price for falling out with the party was imprinted on the national psyche through murders like that of Sandro Girgvliani in 2006, which Merabishvili is also charged in connection with.

On Wednesday, he addressed the court in a long speech, in which he recalled the situation before the Rose Revolution in 2003 and the early days of the National Movement coming into power, before the reforms had begun to take hold.

“The police department was associated only with negative things. We used to call all of them ‘dogs’. This word has disappeared from our vocabulary long ago,” he said.

Merabishvili remembered firing thousands of corrupt policemen from President Eduard Shevardnadze’s time in power.

“We didn’t punish a single policeman for crimes they committed during the Shevardnadze period. This used to be our policy. We had higher goals,” he continued.

He claimed that many former officials from Shevardnadze’s time have now returned to government and are leading the cases against Saakashvili’s former officials.

He thanked every policeman who did everything to change country to the best.

“But I didn’t manage to do the main thing: I couldn’t protect Georgian policemen. I couldn’t protect those who didn’t break and cases were launched against them, I couldn’t protect those who broke and gave false testimonies as prosecutor’s office forces them to,” Merabishvili noted.

The former minister spoke in details about cases when police showed themselves from their best side, repeating the same phrase at the end of each story: “It was an honor for me to work with you.”

“What I regret the most is that more than 40 policemen died in the line of duty while I was minister,” he said, and apologized to the mother of Vladimer Masurashvili, who died on May 26, 2011.

She was outside the court, along with other supporters of the former minister and close Saakashvili ally.

“Those prosecutor’s won’t be able to judge us in history. Neither will this court judge us in history, despite my big respect for them,” he said.