Both members of Georgian rap duo Birja Mafia were arrested on 8 June 2017 for allegedly purchasing and possessing several grams of ecstasy (MDMA) in what they claim was a response to a recent video they released featuring a police officer being treated like a dog, reported several local Georgian sources.
In the video, an actor playing a police officer is on all fours at the feet of the rappers – Young Mic (real name: Mishka Mgaloblishvili) and Kay G (real name: Giorgi Keburia) – while being held by a leash.
The video, which was originally released in March 2017, was quickly taken off YouTube at the behest of Adjaranet, the entertainment website that financed and released the video, Mgaloblishvili’s wife, Erika Copeland, told OC Media on 9 June 2017.
However, on 4 June 2017, the video was re-released with the policeman blurred out.
Police called into question
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that at the rappers’ 9 June court hearing, Mgaloblishvili said the police officers planted drugs on them due to their video.
According to a 9 June Ministry of Internal Affairs press release, officers allegedly found 1.5 grams of ecstasy on Mgaloblishvili and 2.3 grams on Keburia, reported Georgian news outlet Civil Georgia.
At the hearing, Keburia also said that in detention police officers told him: “Let’s see how you’ll sing now”.
Georgian news magazine Tabula reported that Mgaloblishvili said at the court hearing that when he was arrested police officers told him: “someone is annoyed and you will be punished for it. Anyone who represents police in such a manner will be puniched.”
The rapper also said he was pressured to take a drug test, which came out negative, and that he was pressured to plead guilty and was promised to be released in three days in exchange for the confession.
Keburia initially pled guilty to the charges, he later said he was forced to admit his guilt.
If convicted, the duo can face up to 20 years in prison.
Protest and support
Thousands of supporters took to the streets of the country’s capital Tbilisi, and in the major cities of Kutaisi and Batumi, on 10 June to protest the arrest, police conduct and the country’s stiff drug laws. The rappers were released on bail two days later and had their passports revoked.
OC Media reported on 12 June that the Tbilisi City Court originally denied the duo bail on 9 June and that the Prosecutor’s Office originally wanted to keep the rappers in pre-trial detention. A judge had previously placed the rappers in pre-trial detention for two months.
However, the office softened its position once Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Minister of Energy Kakha Kaladze and rapper Bera (son of influential former prime minster and the country’s richest person Bidzina Ivanishvili) released statements in relation to the detention and the country’s notorious drug laws.
The Public Defender’s Office has opened an investigation into police abuse and free speech violations in response to the case, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on 12 June 2017.
In a statement the office also said that “the content and the visual side of the video clip is protected under the freedom of expression”.
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