Situation of human rights defenders in Georgia
Human Rights defenders in Georgia complain that during the last three years they have faced different forms of pressure and intimidation which have included threats or fabricated charges e.g., espionage, physical and verbal assault, and irregular inspections by state organs. They also complain about stigmatization and smear campaigns in media and by high ranking officials.
Friday, 11 November 2011
The practice shows that there is a widespread impunity for the violence against human rights defenders. According to Ucha Nanuashvili, the head of the Human Rights Center, five defenders had to leave the country with the assistance of the South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders. One of them, Vakhtang Komakhidze, had to leave the country forever, others later returned.
“A smear campaign against NGOs started in December 2009, although by the end of February this campaign was suspended thanks to the assistance of the international society and diplomatic corps. Unfortunately, the smear campaign has been renewed in 2011 as the election period is coming”, - said Ucha Nanuashvili.
The Human Rights House Tbilisi applied to Lasha Tordia, the head of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee to evaluate the existing situation. He does not see it as alarming and evaluates the issue positively: “I can’t say that human rights defenders are in a bad situation in Georgia. I think this issue is being politicized, which is very bad and I ask everybody not to do that”.
Although Davit Lortkipanidze, the opposition member of the same committee said that “it has been getting more and more obvious that there is a tendency of pressure against human rights defenders, but competent organizations have not carried out effective investigations over these cases”.
The HRHT has gathered some cases of pressure and harassment against human rights defenders during last 3 years:
The Case of the Human Rights Center (HRIDC)
On July 20, 2011 the Human Rights Center held a special press conference and presented information to the media regarding the pressure and systematic spying on the human rights defenders. They produced evidence of different cars, used to monitor Human Rights Defenders, sharing identical state licenses.
According to the special statement of the Human Rights Center, “for the last several years the Human Rights Center has been attacked by different government officials numerous times. Policemen visited the Center office several times, threatened the employees and assaulted them verbally and physically. The facts of the pressure against Saba Tsitsikashvili, the coordinator of Shida Kartli office, and Gela Mtivlishvili, Kakheti coordinator, have still not been investigated. In many cases the government promoted and encouraged the assaulters”.
According to Ucha Nanuashvili’s information, the Center also has photos of individuals who attended the actions of the NGO and observed their actions.
“Human Rights Center is known to be uncompromising. We have got a lot of useful information about human rights violations, especially in the penitential system. Thus I’m very concerned about the pressure that the Center is under,” said Dimitri Lortkipanidze.
In spite of the fact that the Human Rights Center addressed the law-enforcement bodies and presented evidence to them in summer of this year, up to date there has been no reaction.
Aleko Tskitishvili, the editor of Human Rights Center’s web portal noted that “unfortunately irregular inspection by state organs over the NGOs is still going on. Human Rights Center addressed the Ministry of Internal Affairs and prosecutor’s office and requested that they check the existing testimony, investigate the case, and provide explanations as to why the law-enforcement bodies are spying on the Center employees. They have not started any investigation yet”, He said.
Lasha Tordia explained to HRHT that it is the obligation of the police to start an investigation over the crime, including those against human rights defenders as they are normal civilians as well. Tordia could not remember a specific example, but he said that if there is enough evidence, the prosecutor’s office will start the investigation and punish any perpetrators.
The Case of Young Lawyers Association
On September 6, 2011 the Georgian Young Lawyer Association (GYLA) published independent forensic findings on the circumstances surrounding the death of Nika Kvintradze, one of the persons who died during the rally dispersal on May 26 this year.
“Following the publication of the independent forensic findings, incorrect comments were made both by the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Georgia and representatives of the legislative authority. At the same time, Kurieri news on Rustavi 2 and Kronika news on Imedi broadcast reports aimed at discrediting GYLA, which were prepared in full disregard of journalistic standards and ethical norms. We are particularly concerned that GYLA’s impartiality as opposed to their credibility of the forensic findings was questioned,” reads the Petition of Georgian NGOs to Support GYLA.
When asked about it, Tamar Chugoshvili claimed that “politicians were spreading absolutely faked information. They have not presented any argument about our findings, they did not even have the will to study the findings, which shows that the aim of their statements were just to pressure and discredit GYLA.”
Lasha Tordia sees no problems with those statements. He said that “when somebody notes to your mistakes, it’s a democracy. Society should produce different opinions”.
GYLA thinks that the most significant pressure they had, was a smear campaign in the media: “According to the reports by Rustavi 2 and Imedi on September 6, 2011, GYLA was spreading faked information and this was misleading the public. Also we consider the statement by the representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia during the protest action in front of MIA to be direct pressure on our organisation. They were looking for an excuse from GYLA but the protest action took them by surprise”, said Chugoshvili.
It should be noted that GYLA submitted a complaint against Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV to the self –regulation organs and requested adequate broadcasting time to cover the issue accurately.
It should be noted that GYLA also submitted their complaint to the self-regulative body of Rustavi 2 after the 2008 conflict but it was rejected. The self-regulative body said that the media statement didn’t contain, and in fact faked, facts and was impartial. According to Chugoshvili’s information at that time the TV companies Rustavi 2 and Imedi released media reportscontaining propaganda, and GYLA’s complaint submitted to ECHR was perceived as a betrayal against the country.
The case of the Public Movement “Multinational Georgia”
Arnold Stepanian, the head of “Public Movement Multinational Georgia” thinks that it is very “logical” that human rights defenders are under threat in Georgia. He explained that: “it is very “logical” that NGOs are facing different forms of pressure, because the opposite parties in Georgia are very weak, thus international organizations could hardly be provided with alternative opinions. In such situation for authority it is not advantage to be criticized by the NGOs and they try to discredit them. The Authority is tiring to show the international and local organizations that Georgian NGOs are biased and they don’t deserve trust. For this purpose they started working in a different field, such as: spying the organizations or threats and pressures of NGO leaders. In my case they used fabricated charges of espionage, which psychologically hampered me to work”, explained Arnold Stefanian.
Ucha Nanuashvili, the head of Human Rights Center thinks that a discrediting one NGO means a dissertation of the whole NGO sector. The explained that such kind of facts are mostly connected to the election period. “In 2013 there is a Presidential and parliamentarian election and the authority is trying to have as less independent organization as possible, thus they won’t be prevented. That is why NGOs and independent medias are under pressure in Georgia”, - explained Ucha Nanuashvili.