Following brutal police raids on a number of popular nightclubs on May 11, thousands of young Georgians protested the next day by holding a dance music party in the square outside parliament.
“This is out country not yours,” demonstrators shouted while police looked on, making no attempt to break the demonstration up. The event started in the morning and carried on into the evening and was largely peaceful. By May 13, protesters were continuing to rally outside parliament and Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili made a nationally televised address calling on demonstrators to remain calm and refrain from violence, saying: "Any confrontation in the country and split in society are unacceptable for the Georgian authorities and people,” said.
He added: “Law-enforcement agencies are doing their best to secure law and order and ensure the right and freedom to rally. The Georgian authorities will show a tough position to drug dealers and a humane position to drug addicts."
Social media was full of complaints from party goers who were on a night out when police raided several venues and made party goers stand facing a wall with machine guns pointed at their backs.
The official explanation was that the raids were looking for drugs.
“#Bassiani and #CaféGallery, the local points of #Tbilisi's thriving dance music scene, were raided by police brandishing machine guns this morning. People protested outside both nightclubs, dozens detained. #Georgia #nightlife,” @MaritaTevzadze) tweeted following the raids.
According to some reports, only eight people were detained on drugs related charges. Others claimed the police had planted the drugs. Some speculated the whole operation was a PR stunt by the authorities to highlight its tough stance on drugs.
“That was an experience I hope to never repeat. Went for a techno night at Bassiani and it got raided by the Georgian military police in full riot gear with machine guns. Everyone on the dance floor made to stand against the walls with our hands to our sides,” @SBinLondon added in another tweet.
Several leading human rights organisations in Georgia have issued a joint petition calling for the government to hold those responsible for the police operation accountable.
Tensions rose in the evening of May 13 after more riot police arrived to break up the demonstration, but organisers called the demonstration off after the authorities promised to investigate the allegations of police brutality.
The protest comes only a week after peaceful mass demonstrations ousted the much-despised newly appointed prime minister Serzh Sargsyan on April 23 in neighbouring Armenia. He had been in power as president for a decade.
Hundreds of police in full riot gear raided top Tblisi night spots looking for drugs on May 11.