The two members of Birja Mafia, a rap group from Georgia (the country, not the U.S. state) were arrested last week on charges of purchasing and possessing multiple grams of MDMA each. (That’s a lot of Molly.) Under the country’s infamously tight drug laws, that means Mikheil “Young Mic” Mgaloblishvili and Giorgi “Kay G” Keburia could face up to life in prison, according to local media reports. Mgaloblishvili and Keburia both claim they are innocent–and that cops fabricated the charges against them in retaliation for a Birja Mafia music video that was critical of police. Following protests and statements from public figures, both men were released on bail today, OC Media reports.
The video for Birja Mafia’s “Tsl Shavi Zeda” contains a brief scene in which one of the Birja Mafia members throws a bone at a police officer, who begins chewing it like a dog. The version of the video on Young Mic’s official YouTube account, which has racked up 614,000 views since being published June 4, censors out the cop-as-dog scene, but an uncensored version is also available on the site. (Erica Copeland, Mgaloblishvili’s wife, told OC Media that the video originally appeared, in uncensored form, on a popular Georgian site called Adjaranet.) Mgaloblishvili and Keburia were arrested on June 6, for possession of 1.5 and 2.3 grams of MDMA respectively, just two days after the video first appeared on YouTube.
In court on Friday, Mgaloblishvili claimed that police officers had planted drugs on him, and that they’d implied that they were angry about the video. He said that one of the officers told him “someone is annoyed and you will be punished for it. Anyone who represents police in such a manner will be punished,” the Georgian magazine Tabula reported. Keburia pled guilty to the charges against him, according to Tabula, but has evidently since recanted. After his release, Keburia claimed that police had not physically planted the drugs on him, but simply filed a false report alleging that he’d been carrying them. “I am innocent, my detention is a restriction of freedom of speech,” he said. Keburia also denied ever having pled guilty in the first place, according to OC Media.
The Birj Mafia case has attracted significant attention in Georgia. Ana Dolidze, parliamentary secretary to the president, said that the president’s office will investigate the case. “Due to our recent history, we need to look closely at the situation of any accused individual if such case involves the limitation of human rights, especially in regards to violence and crackdowns,” she said.
Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Georgia’s prime minister, also released a statement. Kvirikashvili did not weigh in on the accusations against Birj Mafia or their charges of police misconduct, but said that Georgia’s drug laws should be relaxed in general. “It is a fact that legislation is too strict in terms of narco-politics and requires liberalization,” he said.
Prosecutors initially declined to release Keburia and Mgaloblishvili on bail, but conceded after statements from Kvirikashvili and others, OC Media reports.
Watch the uncensored and censored versions of the “”Tsl Shavi Zeda” video below.