TBILISI, February 23. / TASS /. Georgian Interior Ministry officials have arrested the chairman of the opposition United National Movement party founded by former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, MP Nika Melia, whose arrest was sanctioned by the Tbilisi court last week for failure to pay bail in the amount of 40,000 lari over (over $12,000) in the case of riots at the June 2019 rally, Georgia's First TV Channel reported on Tuesday.
According to the TV channel, Melia, along with his supporters, barricaded themselves in one of the offices of the party's office in Tbilisi. Law enforcement officers used pepper gas to disperse his supporters, after which they managed to detain him. The perimeter of the party building remains cordoned off by the police. There are activists, supporters of the United National Movement, in the street, as well as leaders of other opposition parties. They are chanting slogans in protest against the actions of the police, but are avoiding clashed with law enforcement forces.
On February 17, the Tbilisi City Court authorized Melia's arrest for non-payment of bail in a riot case. The court's decision caused a political crisis in the country. On February 18, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned due to disagreements with his colleagues. On that day, the police first came to arrest Melia, who had been at the party's office since February 16, but the United National Movement supporters did not let them into the building.
The criminal case against Melia, who headed the United National Movement in December 2020, was initiated in June 2019. He is accused of organizing and participating in the riots on June 20 and 21, 2019, which ended in an attempt to storm the parliament building. In June 2019, the court released him on bail and ordered him to wear an electronic bracelet, but in November 2020, at a rally against the results of the parliamentary elections, he took it off and threw it away. After that, the prosecutor's office petitioned the court to increase the amount of bail, which Melia refused to pay, claiming political persecution. If the politician is found guilty, he faces up to six years in prison.