Western response to the dramatic arrest of Nika Melia, Georgian opposition leader

By | Rachel Brooks

February 24, 2021 

Image credit: “EPP EaP Leaders’Meeting – 23 November 2017” by More pictures and videos: connect@epp.eu is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Trouble has brewed to boil in the Georgian republic. The arrest of opposition leader Nikanor Melia has created a stir within Georgia, the western governments, and the world press. Melia was reportedly arrested at his HQ offices and was dragged from the facility by police in a violent raid that likewise came down heavily on supporters at the scene. The BBC captured footage of the dramatic scene. A long-list of government grievances against Melia dates back to 2019, and his anti-government protests of that era. He was accused of inciting violence in the protests of 2019 and was eventually arrested over reportedly failing to pay an increased bail-out fee from this incident.

Melia was elected as the United National Movement party leader in 2020, see OC Media.  Melia’s election came after multiple state convictions for abuse of power, as well as differences with other major opposition leaders including the Ukraine-expatriated former prime minister Saakashvili. Melia’s only true opposition in his candidacy for UNM movement leader was Levan Varshalomidze. Levan Varshalomidze was formerly the leader of Georgia’s autonomous Republic of Adjara and was a former member of Saakashvili’s reformer representation in Ukraine.

The Civil Georgia reported that Melia was arrested during a special operation of the United National Movement party. The opposition party had been gathered in the HQ since February 17, when the Tblisi City Court sent Melia, who is the largest opposition party chair, to Pretrial Detention. This Pretrial Detention was in response to Melia’s refusal to pay a bond of 40,000 GEL, the equivalent of 12,000 US dollars. Civil Georgia reported that Melia’s bell was originally set at 30,000 GEL, the equivalent of 9,000 US dollars. On February 16, the city court removed Melia’s MP immunity, which greenlighted the prosecutions effort to return Melia to prison.

Melia’s arrest comes as he asserted to his followers that the end of the government was swift approaching, calling the recently resigned Georgian Dream party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili and Prime Minister Garibashvili “traitors.” Melia was accused of inciting violence against the government for his protests of a Russian MP’s presence in the legislature, see Civil archives from 2019. 

The Georgian Dream party responded to the Interior Ministry with gratitude for the arrest of Melia. Meanwhile, the western world looked on in concern that

The New York Times World reported that, while politics in Georgia have always been “sharp-elbowed” the arrest of Melia signals “an alarming pivot” to more repressive roles in the government. The arrest of Melia follows a month of upheaval in which opposition leaders dispersed across the Caucasus have ruffled feathers of allied governments over their rhetoric, and party leaders have resigned. 

Nika Melia’s official webpage describes his political agenda as “to support and develop initiatives” and announced that a role at his political offices was one of openness, where “any of you can come up with an idea.” Melia’s open-minded political agendas have made him a popular figure with the Georgian public, which has struggled under the nation’s recent financial crisis.  

On February 23, police arrested Melia which led to an outbreak of protests within the country. Radio Free Europe described Melia’s arrest as “a violent raid in which tear gas was used.” Radio Free Europe likewise reported that demonstrators organized against the arrest of Melia are leaders of oppositions and civil rights activist groups. 

Voice of America, a publication of the United States government, likewise reported that Melia’s supporters have barricaded themselves in their offices in response to the opposition leader’s arrest. 

The anticipation of police action against Melia has circulated in February, with the United States State Department under the recently inducted Biden administration releasing a statement on February 18. 

“The U.S. Embassy appreciates the restraint shown by the authorities and the opposition in responding to the events surrounding the Melia case. It is imperative that all those involved commit to de-escalating the current tensions so that a way forward can be agreed upon. The United States remains willing to help facilitate constructive dialogue in support of maintaining peace, stability, and the democratic process in Georgia,” wrote the U.S. Embassy of Georgia.

“Georgia is facing extremely serious challenges. It is in the best interests of the people of Georgia that this political crisis be resolved quickly and peacefully. The United States stands ready to assist Georgia in finding a solution to the current crisis and to return focus to creating jobs, reducing poverty, and rebuilding the economy.” 

In addition to the U.S. Embassy of Georgia, the U.S. State Department addressed concerns regarding the small South Caucasus nation. On February 23, State Department spokesperson Ned Price released an official statement concerning the arrest of Melia and other opposition members within the Georgian republic. 

“The United States is deeply troubled by the arrest of opposition leader Nika Melia and other members of the opposition in Georgia.

Polarizing rhetoric, force, and aggression are not the solution to Georgia’s political differences. We call on all sides to avoid actions that could further escalate tensions and to engage in good faith negotiations to resolve the current political crisis.

The United States stands ready to support a democratic, secure, and prosperous Georgia,” wrote the State Department. 

In addition to this official statement by the U.S. government, Ned Price likewise commented on the Georgian political crisis from his Twitter. 

“We are troubled by the arrest of Nika Melia and other members of the opposition in Georgia. We call on all sides to avoid actions that could further escalate tensions and to engage in good faith negotiations to resolve the current political crisis,” tweeted Price, from his official account.

The Council of Europe news reported that the co-rapporteurs for PACE monitoring of Georgia have likewise expressed their concern at developments. 

JAM News likewise reported that the western reaction to Melia’s arrest was one of disdain. JAM reported a “wave of outrage” emerging on Facebook in response to Melia’s arrest. Likewise, JAM reported a “strongly negative” international reaction to what western ambassadors referred to as “moving backward” on Georgia’s “path to democracy’. U.S. President Joe Biden’s foreign policy adviser Michael Carpenter stated that “very sad events were unfolding in Georgia.”

U.S. Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R, Illinois 16th District), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee GOP,  likewise expressed negative criticism, stating that this was a “huge blow” for the government of Georgia. Kinzinger was one of the initiators of the U.S. Support Act to Georgia in 2019. When Georgia failed to accept the terms of this act, Kinzinger called it a “gift to Putin.” Kinzinger was adamant at the time of his and fellow Congressman Alex Mooney’s bill would “send a signal to Putin” see Agenda Georgia news.  

In response to the recent arrest of Melia, Kinzinger had heated criticism for the Georgian government.

“Incredibly Dumb move by Georgian Government against a legitimate political party. Sad day for democracy in the Country of Georgia,” wrote Kinzinger. 

Kinzinger likewise commented on the escalation of political tensions the day before Melia’s arrest. Kinzinger noted that he had just reintroduced the Georgia Support Act on February 22, the day that he likewise watched live the police launch their raid of the opposition HQ.

“I watched this raid live. As the Co-chair of the Country of Georgia caucus, I am very concerned. We just introduced again the Georgia Support Act. That is not something that is automatic,” wrote Kinzinger, via his Twitter.