Bassiani and Café Gallery, the focal points of Tbilisi's thriving dance music scene, were raided by armed police early Saturday morning.
Officers stormed the clubs ostensibly as part of the government's response to five drug deaths over the past two weeks, which the authorities claim are linked to Bassiani. However, a statement from the club, posted via Facebook on Monday, May 7th, said that "none of the tragic deaths have occurred" at the venue and that the accusations are part of an "endless smear campaign" by right-wing political forces to "discredit our club."
Earlier today, Bassiani issued a new statement regarding the raids, saying that "approximately 60 people were arrested," including the club's cofounders, Tato Getia and Zviad Gelbakhiani. There are also reports that Gelbakhiani was beaten as he was arrested.
Sa Pa was playing in Bassiani when the raids took place. "There were between five and 15 people (including staff) in the room when approximately four to six uniformed officers entered around 1 AM," he told Resident Advisor. "A girl from wardrobe then came in and explained to me that the club had been raided and told me, with a slight gesture, that guns were involved, although she was hesitant to make too much of a sign about it. As I walked up the steps to leave the club there were artefacts on the steps (what looked to be like cigarette butts) circled with chalk with 'A, B, C'-type markers next to them, like what you would see at a crime scene."
Mariam Murusidze, former booker of Café Gallery, also spoke to Resident Advisor earlier today. "What happened yesterday, it's not just about clubs. It's a fight between the Soviet past of this country and the dictatorship we used to live in, the police country we used to live in and the future we want for our country."
Murusidze went on to say that the timing of these incidents was significant. The recent drug-related deaths, she said, "occurred exactly at the moment when parliament had a session about making more liberal drug laws. So everyone had a sense, now we will have more liberal drug policies and we will have a chance. Then this happened, and the decision is postponed. So, this context is very clear."
Georgia maintains extraordinarily strict zero-tolerance drug policies. Random drug tests by police are common, and small amounts of recreational drugs can land people in prison for years. Tbilisi's clubs are at the forefront of a movement to change the country's drug laws, especially Bassiani, which has close ties to the activist group White Noise.
A protest against the raids is planned for 3 PM local time today in front of the parliament building.
Read Bassiani's statement in full.
"Government of Georgia raided night clubs in Tbilisi with special forces, beat up peaceful demonstrators and arrested club owners who were there merely to express support. According to an official version of the government, they were aiming at arresting drug dealers, but it's a false accusation.
The club industry representatives spread a preventive statement about the possible threats few days ago. Everyone believed that the state would be reasonable and that we would not have to face such a shameful event. There is no doubt that the state is waging a war against the only sphere of the culture of the independent Georgia, which is not only internationally acclaimed, but holds the leading position on the international scene due to its social values.
With this shameful act, the government of Georgia declared a war against all the ideas and values, that unites thousands of people in Tbilisi clubs. These clubs are not only a place of entertainment, but the important and bright spots of free expression, development and social changes!"Here is footage of Bassiani cofounder Zviad Gelbakhiani being arrested:
Resident Advisor has worked with Bassiani on several events, including our In Residence series and our upcoming 24/7 events.
We will be following and updating this story as it develops.