Women Speak Out amidst Threats and Arrests
Editorial Choice, Know Your Rights

Women Speak Out amidst Threats and Arrests

In a city which has not yet recovered from aftermaths of the war, the only way to survive the pressure of criminal investigations and endless trials is to continue active fight for decent life. 

Tamara Mearakishvili, a civil activist from Akhalgori, began her fight with very clear demands – to improve living conditions in her native district. Everyone who tried to silence her received an opposite effect: each time the criticism became stronger. Having received strong support from Georgians as well as Ossetians, Tamara turned her insecurity into her strength.

Not afraid to speak out about the problems, she became the voice of the discontent locals. Tamara continues her legal fight with Tskhinvali authorities and does not intend to leave her home.

“The decision was made as a result of pressure from the authorities and was intended to punish and teach me a lesson.” This is how Tamara Mearakishvili responds to the recent ruling of the Supreme Court of South Ossetia, which de facto separated from Georgia as a result of the armed conflict of 1990-92.

Having examined the prosecutor’s appeal, the court dismissed the defendant’s charges on libel, but sent the episode with the “illegal acquisition” of the passport for reinvestigation.

Tamara, whose criminal prosecution has been going on for two and a half years, is stunned.

“How can it be? Your courts ruled for three times that the person was innocent, that there were no signs of a crime, and then another court said that they had made the wrong decision … It was not just one court or two… three courts declared it! ” Tamara said.

According to the activist, the last decision was a signal: they want to expel her from Akhalgori.

“All the facts indicate that this [lawsuit] is linked to my civic activity. This is not a domestic conflict between the locals. All agencies, institutions, and personally Anatoly Bibilov – the man who has the highest legitimacy in South Ossetia – are fighting against me.”

Tamara, like many women living in a frozen conflict zone, is on the front line. According to her, women often take the lead when it comes to solving some problems, because they know that men have to answer for their decisions differently. In addition, there is still some kind of respect towards women, which is shown in relation to her as well.

“There is an Ossetian saying – a dog does not bark at woman. I often recall it and tell it to those who treat me with aggression.”

Tamara Mearakishvili believes that it is easier and safer for women to talk about problems than for men. Photo: Facebook / Tamara Mearakishvili

The women are generally the most active and critical. It was proved at the meeting with de facto president Anatoly Bibilov in late December, where the issues related to “border” were discussed.  Authorities in Tskhinvali decided to close the crossing points in September 2019 after the developments in the villages Tsnelisi-Chorchana. De facto authorities accused the Georgian side of establishing a police checkpoint.

“At least 20 people spoke at the meeting, out of which only two were men, if I am not mistaken. All the rest were the women. ”

The checkpoint was opened on January 24, 2020, but only temporarily. Elderly residents of Akhlgory were allowed to leave the town for the first time in 140 days,

Tamara said that at a “very tough meeting” with Bibilov in December, she was just an “ordinary resident” of the district.

“I didn’t bring anyone there, I didn’t dictate the text to anyone, and I did not force anyone to do anything. But, people still grabbed microphone from each other.”

“The fact that I am a woman, gives me some advantages in my struggle. Otherwise I could have been dead already of at least beaten many times. When I was arrested and taken to police station, they wanted me to confess of what I did not do, and they told me directly: if you were a man, we would break your bones so you would confess to everything”.

In addition to challenges in her everyday life, Tamara also faces problems on social network. She said that there were cases when some of the locals were “judged” only because they liked or reposted Tamara’s statuses on social networks.

Moreover, she has been bullied by Internet trolls. As she said, these fake accounts are linked to de facto president’s administration. She believes that one of these trolls, who spoke on the network about the “fifth column” and “political prostitution”, is a member of the Bibilov’s administration.

“I am very attentive. If someone writes something about me, I immediately check their friend lists. And when I checked his friends, the first person in his list was Anatoly Bibilov”.

Tamara believes that she is not persecuted because of her ethnicity. She does not see the signs of gender based discrimination either. And even though the rights of women in a region with strong patriarchal traditions are violated to a greater extent than of men, for example, “the women leadership is not tolerated here”, it is the women who take the lead in times of crisis.

The criminal prosecution against Tamara Mearakishvili continues for more than two and half years. Photo: Facebook / Tamara Mearakishvili

Mearakishvili became a well-known civic activist in 2014 – when she began to speak out about the problems in Akhalgori district. She criticized de facto authorities and cooperated with independent journalists.

The criminal prosecution, as she said, certainly made her life more difficult, but at the same time “increased the demand” for her.

“More and more people are contacting me, sending me requests for friendship, offering help and support. Of course, this situation attracted more people’s attention, which made me more protected than ever. And I think from now on I will get even more support. ”

Tamara, who has gained confidence in both – Georgian and Ossetian communities, believes that it is all about her honesty: “When you are honest, when don’t lie and when you have no political ambitions, people sincerely trust you.”

“For example, I received calls and text messages from people in Tskhinvali expressing support and telling me that I was protected. I can say that these were the calls from MPs. I will not specify, because recently there have been cases when some MPs were beaten or intimidated …”

But, in fact Tamara has a double challenge. Due to a criminal case, she is banned to move freely and because of the closed checkpoint, hypothetically, she is not able to leave Akhalgori.

“Today, I feel uncomfortable that it all started with complaints about domestic problems and grew into an international scandal. Due to the fact that we do not have water, and I wrote about this, they can expel me from my own town. That’s where we ended up.”

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