In a brilliantly terse, acidic editorial, the Moscow Times exposes the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Kremlin in Georgia; it complains to high heaven about Georgian mistreatment of Russians that Georgia believed were spies, then it turns right around and kills innocent Georgians.
In October, when authorities cut transportation and postal links with Georgia and started a crackdown on Georgian migrants living in the country, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov promised that every effort would be made to ensure that law-abiding people would not be affected. The death in a Moscow detention center on Saturday of one law-abiding migrant, Manana Dzhabelia, shows that these efforts were tragically insufficient.
Dzhabelia, a 51-year-old mother of three, was detained on Oct. 4 after police found she was not carrying her passport. Despite her explanation that it was at the Georgian consulate to be extended, Dzhabelia’s deportation was ordered the very next day by a district court — rapid action in a country where legal procedures are notoriously slow.
In a cruel twist, a higher court ruled that Dzhabelia was in the country legally, but the detention center was still waiting for an official release order when she died.
It’s impossible to say, of course, that the detention killed Dzhabelia. Prison conditions, however, have been heavily criticized by human rights organizations and even by then-Justice Minister Yury Chaika in March. Dzhabelia’s legal representative, Irina Bergaliyeva, said her client had alerted guards that she suffered from high blood pressure. Although medical staff did visit with Dzhabelia at least twice, Bergaliyeva called the examinations insufficient. A hunger strike Dzhabelia started when her requests to be released pending an appeal of her deportation likely did not help her condition.
But that does not change the real injustice — that she was behind bars at all.
Russia’s relations with Georgia have been tense for months, in part because of Moscow’s accusations that Tbilisi is planning military action against the pro-Russian leadership of the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Ironically, Dzhabelia, an ethnic Georgian, fled Abkhazia to Moscow 13 years ago to escape the bloodshed of a conflict between Tbilisi and the republic.
The decision to restrict transportation and mail and to crack down on Georgian migrants followed the arrest of several Russian officers in Tbilisi on espionage charges. One of the men was released the next day, while the other three returned to Moscow three days later, raising issues of the proportionality of Russia’s response.
In Dzhabelia’s case, the results were out of all proportion. After just four days, the detained Russian servicemen were back in Moscow. Two months after her arrest, and two days after a court ruled that she should be freed, Dzhabelia died in detention.