SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: June 17, 2023

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Tbilisi State University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Georgia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 17, 2023, around 20 unidentified individuals attacked student protesters at Tbilisi State University (TSU). One student, Luka Shvelidze, was hospitalized for his injuries.

The students were protesting against Irakli Kobakhidze, the leader of the Georgian Dream, a political party, and a TSU professor. The students accused Kobakhidze of pro-Russian politics for his support of a draft parliamentary law “On foreign agents,” also known as the “Russian law.” The law would require any individual or group that receives at least 20 percent of their funds from abroad to register with the Justice Ministry as “agents of foreign influence.” The students were also protesting comments that Kobakhidze had made the previous week about students who had thrown Russian rubles in protest of his politics.

The attack occurred as students were hanging up posters denouncing Kobakhidze’s actions. A video posted to Facebook shows unidentified individuals violently attacking the students and pushing them down a staircase. Some students reported the attackers were not students, but rather individuals from outside the campus community—either outside supporters of Kobakhidze or members of the Georgian Dream’s youth wing. The Ministry of Internal Affairs opened an investigation into the incident.

Luka Shvelidze, one of the students protesting against Kobakhidze and a member of the youth wing of the opposition party, United National Movement, was taken to Khechinashvili clinic for injuries he sustained in the attack. A criminal police officer, Davit Kakhniashvili, dressed in civilian clothes reportedly went into Shvelidze’s hospital room to ask for information and threatened him with a gun. Kakhniashvili was detained by police and investigated for his involvement in threatening Shvelidze.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about attacks on nonviolent student protesters. All members of society must refrain from violence and have an obligation to respect the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression. University authorities have a responsibility to take reasonable measures to ensure safe conditions for students. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, violence on campus erodes academic freedom, damages the ability to exercise the rights to engage in freedom of expression and assembly, and harms democratic society more generally.

*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)