Sixteen people arrested on Saturday for disobedience to police and petty hooliganism in eastern Georgia when they protested the presence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s relatives at wedding celebrations were released late Sunday.
The incident followed the landing of the first Russian jet in four years in Tbilisi last week, shortly after the Kremlin announced on May 10 it would lift its ban on direct flights with Georgia, and came after protesters gathered outside the Kvareli Lake hotel in of the Kakheti region expressed their displeasure at the presence of Mika Vinokurov, Lavrov’s son-in-law, and Yekaterina Lavrova-Vinokurova, the politician’s daughter, because of a planned marriage of their relatives.
The demonstration, which included Droa party leader Elene Khoshtaria and other opposition politicians, protested the two’s presence amid their involvement in international sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and accused the Georgian government of “collaborating” with Moscow.
Law enforcement arrested 16 people at the protest, two of whom were released the following day after a “verbal note” from a judge. The remaining 14 will appear in court on June 19, lawyers said.
Khoshtaria, who was also arrested at the police station in the city of Telavi on Saturday along with two members of the opposition United National Movement party for disobedience to the police, was also released and will appear in court on the same day. The two UNM members will receive hearings on June 30th.
In his comments on Sunday, Irakli Kobachidze, leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party, accused the protesters of “xenophobia” and part of the domestic opposition of “double standards”.
“We had predicted that as the tourist season approached, a new wave of xenophobic campaigns would begin,” Kobachidze said, comparing the protests to jailed former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who headed the former UNM government, who “personally” attended an event Russian guests attended in Georgia shortly after the country’s invasion of Georgia in 2008.
In her press comments on Sunday, President Salome Zourabichvili quoted the country’s interior minister as saying Lavrov’s relatives had left after the protests. She then criticized the government for “insulting the Georgian people” and called on them to use lists of sanctioned Russian people at border crossings to prevent similar incidents.
In response, Kobakhidze said that sanctions “cannot be imposed on family members” and claimed that the application of restrictions “contradicted human rights standards.” He said people who did not break Georgian law in the Russian-occupied areas of the country would be allowed to enter the country.