WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, joined counterparts from Germany, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and the Czech Republic in expressing concerns about “destabilizing and antidemocratic actions” in the South Caucasus nation of Georgia.
“The storming of the office of the United National Movement, the largest opposition party in Georgia, in order to arrest Nika Melia, its chairman, exposed the fragility of democracy and freedom in Georgia,” Menendez said in a February 26 statement also signed by representatives of the six U.S. allies.
The comments came as thousands of Georgians took to the streets in the nation’s capital to protest a police raid on the headquarters of the opposition party and the arrest of Melia on February 23.
International rights group Amnesty International called the heavy use of force to take Melia into custody before a court has heard his appeal against pretrial detention a troubling indicator.
Rally participants, waving Georgian and NATO flags and carrying signs, rallied outside the Georgian parliament building in Tbilisi to call for new snap parliamentary elections and the release of political prisoners.
Police accuse Melia of inciting violence at anti-government protests during the summer of 2019. Melia has dismissed the charges against him as politically motivated.
The Menendez statement said that “we call on the Georgians to come together to find political solutions to the problems we have seen emerge in recent years and not to resort to the tactics we have seen practiced by others to the detriment of the interests of the Georgian people.”
“The destabilizing and antidemocratic actions, starting after the parliamentary election and continuing until most recently, highlight the personal responsibility of all those in positions of power to exercise restraint and the consequences for the whole nation for those who do not,” it added.
It said that Georgia’s “place as a free member of the European family is not in doubt but is put in danger by the violence and assaults on freedom.”
Georgia, a former Soviet Republic, is a close U.S. ally and has aspirations of joining NATO and the European Union, although membership in either organization is not imminent.