U.S. Report Critical on Human Rights Practices in Georgia
A new report on human rights practices in Georgia, unveiled by the U.S. Department of State and covering 2021, has said “there were indications that at times civilian authorities did not maintain effective control of domestic security forces.”
According to the report, “significant human rights issues included credible reports of serious problems with the independence of the judiciary along with arbitrary or selective detentions, investigations, and prosecutions widely considered to be politically motivated.”
It also listed unlawful interference with privacy; violence and threats of violence against journalists; limited respect for freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and crimes involving violence or threats targeting LGBTQI persons and activists.
“The government took steps to investigate some officials for human rights abuses, but impunity remained a problem. The government’s failure to credibly investigate and prosecute the organizers of violence on July 5-6 resulted in impunity for those abuses,” it continued.
The human rights report said while the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the government’s observance of these prohibitions was uneven.
It took note of an example of Georgian Orthodox priest Father Jonas being arbitrarily detained by police in the southern town of Dmanisi, as the priest alleged his detention was at the request of Orthodox bishop Iobi of the Ruis-Urbnisi eparchy. The priest claimed police threatened him with more serious charges if he did not go to jail for the fabricated charges.
Following a Mtavari Arkhi TV report, the deputy chief of Dmanisi police, Shalva Zambakhidze, was charged with the fabrication of evidence, illegal storage of firearms, abuse of power, and illegal detention. On November 8, Rustavi City Court partially acquitted the officer on the counts of illegal detention and abuse of power, but found him guilty of illegal storage of firearms and fabrication of evidence, and sentenced him to five years of imprisonment.
The U.S. report said there remained indications of interference in judicial independence and impartiality in Georgia.
“Judges were vulnerable to political pressure from within and outside the judiciary on cases involving politically sensitive subjects or individuals.”
It added that “the long-standing practice of transferring judges from one court to another also remained a problem. Decisions regarding transfers were made by the High Council of Justice, and these decisions were unsubstantiated.”
The report further noted that most of the judges transferred to administrative chambers panels reportedly were affiliated with the “clan,” and almost all of them were associated with high-profile cases.
Freedom of Press
The report said while the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for media, the government did not adequately safeguard that freedom.
During the year there were a significant number of attacks on journalists by far-right groups and politically motivated actors, the report said. It stated that in a number of cases, no suspects were prosecuted, including the case of Mtavari Arkhi TV journalist Emma Gogokhia, who reportedly was threatened with death by the Mestia mayor.
The report highlighted that the police statements soon after the death of TV Pirveli cameraman Aleksandre Lashkarava, who died a few days after being assaulted during July 5 homophobic pogroms, “appeared aimed at discrediting the journalist instead of determining the cause of death.”
It also highlighted that “statements by political leaders also degraded media plurality.” “For example… Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the Georgian Dream party, said that ‘party televisions began to establish blasphemy in serials, thus accustoming the public to the insulting language.”
“This sort of rhetoric was used extensively by the ruling party (as it was used when other parties were in power) to call into question any reporting critical of the government.”
The report continued that in the aftermath of July 5-6 violence against journalists “two key journalists from Rustavi 2 (a pro-Georgian Dream outlet) resigned, citing lack of editorial independence.”
Further, the report asserted that the Georgian National Communications Commission, a national regulator, “was influenced by the ruling party.”
The document also cited a significant number of journalists reporting that they were either prevented from covering public events or did not receive key public information when requested.
On a positive note, the report said the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. But concerns remained regarding unauthorized surveillance, it added.
Freedom of Assembly
The government’s respect for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association was uneven, the report said.
Speaking of July 5 homophobic pogroms, it said: “Approximately 3,000 far-right demonstrators violently rioted through Tbilisi, destroying an opposition protest site at parliament, attacking NGO offices, and assaulting more than 50 journalists and others following statements from Prime Minister Garibashvili that called the planned Tbilisi Pride event, March for Dignity, inappropriate and described it as a plot by “Saakashvili and the radical opposition” aimed at sparking tension and destabilization in the country.”
“The prime minister alleged that 95 percent of the population opposed the event as a justification for blaming Tbilisi Pride for the violence.”
Abkhazia, Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia
The report noted that the Russian and de facto authorities in both Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia committed abuses with impunity.
Significant human rights issues in these regions included credible reports of unlawful detentions; restrictions on movement, especially of ethnic Georgians; restrictions on voting or and political participation; and restrictions on the ability of Georgians to own property or register businesses, the document said.
Ethnic Georgians lacked fundamental rights and confronted onerous registration requirements that threatened their continued status, the report added.
The report listed the death of Anri Ateiba, allegedly due to Abkhaz police violence, as a possible unlawful killing in occupied Abkhazia.
It also took a note of Abkhazia’s detention of Russian tourist Artyom Russkikh in April on suspicion of involvement in drug sales. “De facto police repeatedly moved Russkikh, beat him, threatened to kill him, including by simulating executions of hanging with a garden hose and drowning in a mountain stream, and brandished a pistol.”
Treatment of Independent Institutions, Elections
Credible reports of political violence continued, the report said. “Intimidation, pressure against voters and candidates, and abuse of administrative resources, further blurring the lines between the government and ruling party, persisted throughout the first and second rounds of the October municipal elections.”
According to the report, the Public Defender’s Office was increasingly marginalized by the ruling Georgian Dream party amid the extreme polarization.
It also noted Georgian Dream MPs abolishing the State Inspector’s Service, and establishing in its place, two separate agencies to investigate abuse of power by law enforcement officials and to protect personal data.
“In contrast to the previous mandate to investigate all law enforcement equally, the law does not authorize the new investigative agency to investigate certain crimes committed by prosecutors, such as murder and bodily harm.”
Speaking of workers’ rights, the document said the government did not effectively enforce laws that protect freedom of association or prohibit anti-union discrimination.
“Penalties were not commensurate with those under other laws involving the denial of other civil rights. Remedies to address arbitrary dismissal and legal disputes regarding labor rights were subject to lengthy delays.”
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