TBILISI, DFWatch–Saakashvili faithful TV station Rustavi 2 has aired a 5-minute clip which appears to free police of culpability for the death of nineteen year-old Buta Robakidze, who was shot during a police operation on November 24, 2004.
But the clip, the source of which is one of the policemen accused of covering up the apparent mistake, is in fact not new. It is a differently edited version of footage already shown on Georgian screens, and has set off a vigorous debate with some saying it was manipulated.
The Interior Ministry stated at the time that a band of criminals in a car had started shooting at the police who returned fire and killed one of the ‘criminals.’ A criminal investigation was launched against the other four youth who were also in the car with Robakidze. They were accused of illegally carrying weapons and ammunition. Eight years later, they are still under investigation — none of the cases have been brought to trial.
In December, 2012, the Georgian Dream government which came to power five months ago, dropped charges against them.
The police’s version was questioned, because those who survived claimed they didn’t have any weapons and that the police had made this up in order to protect its interests.
In 2006, Reportiori, an independent production company, made a TV documentary which claimed that the police had accidentally killed Robakidze and released false information in order to cover it up. Police claimed that the youth resisted and they had to open fire. The documentary also claimed that police placed the weapon in the car that night, and that the officer responsible for this was Guram Donadze, former head of the Interior Ministry’s press office, and a former reporter for Rustavi 2.
The family of the deceased claimed the same. This case has been at the center of public attention for years, and the opposition to Saakashvili’s government accused it and the National Movement party of hiding the guilty policemen and covering up the truth.
After the parliamentary election on October 1, 2012, the new government started studying the case anew. The policemen who were at the scene that night were called to the Prosecutor’s Office. About 30 police employees were questioned, and they confirmed that the youth didn’t have a weapon in the car and that the weapon was put in the car in order to fabricate evidence.
They pointed to Guram Donadze as the one who had ordered these illegal actions, and Zurab Mikadze, head of police, who was recently charged with falsifying evidence and abusing powers. Four more policemen are charged with same, including Guram Donadze, who was questioned and said that he had footage which would prove that he didn’t participate in this case and no-one had placed weapon on the youngsters.
On Tuesday, Irakli Pirtskhalava, a former policeman who also participated in the tragic incident, brought the footage to Rustavi 2. He says it proves that the youth who were in the car had weapons and that no-one fabricated evidence.
Pirtskhalava didn’t say how he obtained the footage.
Afterward, Guram Donadze said the latest footage proved his innocence. But the family of Robakidze, and their friends and lawyer, claim that the footage proves nothing and that it has been manipulated.
Irakli Mikaberidze, a friend of Buta Robakidze who was present during his killing, denies that they had a weapon. He claims police placed it after the murder of Robakidze.
Soso Robakidze, father of Buta, claims that the footage shown on Rustavi 2 is falsified and demands that it is examined by experts.
The clip, which is in fact not new, but a different version of footage already aired, is about five minutes long and starts with a policeman firing a warning shot, while the suspects are forced to lay on the ground and put their hands on their back. About one minute later, the police officers discover that Buta Robakidze is shot and that they need to call an ambulance, while the rest of the clip shows the discovery of two weapon, one on the ground and another one in the car the youth were driving.
But the video does not show the men resisting the police. There are three main questions about which differing claims are made: How Robakidze was killed – was it an accident or was it a response to his resisting police? Who were the rest of the youth in the car? Some claim that Buta Robakidze got into the car by accident and didn’t know the rest of youngsters, while others claim they were friends. The third and most strongly disputed issue is how the rifle ended up in the car. Did the suspects have it in the car, or did the police bring it when they discovered that Buta Robakidze was shot.
In social networks, the footage has sparked controversy, as a photo of the weapon goes viral: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=536337229719722&set=a.268140466539401.63992.100000303502069&type=1&theater
The gun, which in the recently aired video footage is shown to be in the car looks different than the gun which the policeman later holds in his hands.
Another controversy about the footage is that the audio goes silent in two sections, making it impossible to hear what the police are saying.
The documentary from 2006 shows the same clip with audio, and the policemen can be heard saying ‘they have nothing’, which may prove that youth didn’t have weapons.
The parents of Buta Robakidze, as well as the others apprehended in the police action, were dissatisfied with Rustavi 2 releasing the footage of the killing.
Robakidze’s mother said she was ‘killed twice’, as she learned about the death of her son from the TV then, and now she has seen it on TV again.
The father of Buta Robakidze said on Rustavi 2 Tuesday that he is in possession of results of a forensic examination which shows that his son was shot in the underarm, which proves that he held his hands high and was not resisting.
He further says the emergency crew was called immediately and came after five minutes, but the doctors weren’t allowed to walk over to Robakidze, who remained alive for 20-25 minutes after being shot.
“They were allowed there after 2-3 hours and then they took him to the morgue, while the child was alive for 20-25 minutes and there are witnesses to this,” he said, adding that a doctor who remained at the location remembers that she didn’t see any weapon there.
The documentary from 2006: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuDAEDdI9m4
Latest footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyknpquOu2A