Government officials verbally attack civil society organisations
On 24th October 2018, several civil society organisations issued a statement to denounce that "leading members of the Government of Georgia and the ruling party continue their purposeful attacks on non-governmental organisations and their heads".
According to the statement, during an International Anti-Corruption conference in Copenhagen, Georgia’s Minister of Justice attacked the NGO, Transparency International Georgia. The Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, made the comments in response to Transparency International’s evidence regarding the country's high levels of corruption. In particular, the Minister attacked the head of the NGO by alleging that she participated in the dispersal of a rally on 7th November 2007.
This is not the first verbal attack against civil society by public officials. For example, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the chairman of the ruling party Georgian Dream, stated in an interview that some Georgian NGOs are “active members of the National Movement”, Georgia’s main political opposition. Some observers have noted that these slurs are due to their criticism of the ruling party.
In their statement the CSOs said:
"Call on the government, rather than attacking non-governmental organisations and their heads, to, first and foremost, answer the questions prevailing among the public with regard to corruption allegations and to raise the issue of responsibility of all the persons whose culpability will be established, regardless of how influential they may be."
11 years have passed since the dispersal of violent protests in November 2007. The episode is firmly marked in history as the “brutal dispersal of a peaceful rally" which saw Georgian forces use rubber bullets, water cannons and truncheons to quell protests. The large-scale unrest witnessed over 70,000 people take to the streets of Tbilisi and left at least 500 people injured in the ensuing clashes. To commemorate the event, hundreds of Georgians gathered in front of the Rustaveli Theatre, including several leaders of the political opposition. Participants chanted "I protect freedom" and "We Remember November 7".
In a separate incident, the political party, Strength in Unity coalition in Georgia issued a statement where they stated that the party does not recognise the presidential election results of 28th November 2018. For the first time, the elected candidate was a woman. According to official results, Salome Zurabishvili, the candidate backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, received 59.52 per cent of the vote in a second round of election.
International monitoring groups said that Zurabishvili “enjoyed an undue advantage,” citing the misuse of administrative resources that "blurred the line between party and state."
The opposition, led by defeated Strength in Unity candidate Grigol Vashadze called on citizens to protest on 2nd December 2018. In response, the Georgian Prime Minister issued a warning demonstrators: "if anyone at the manifestation tries to create destabilisation, they will be held accountable within the law". As planned, thousands gathered in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi calling for a new election law and for early parliamentary elections.
"Our lawyers are preparing a lawsuit, which we will submit to court. We will demand that the results of the presidential election be annulled. Also, an investigation needs to be carried... https://t.co/MwtGXXLlMq— Michael Vanderpool (@Travelingsoul77) December 6, 2018
Several Georgian NGOs issued a statement claiming that the authorities have unduly questioned the right of anonymity for whistle-blowers. The statement came after on 21st November 2018, the prosecutor asked civil society groups to disclose a "whistle-blower’s identity in an alleged plot to rig the voting in Presidential runoffs". The prosecutor requests follow the allegations made by three CSOs claiming that the head of the Public Service Development Agency (PSDA), mandated a few regional offices "to illegally issue up to five IDs to specific individuals, thus allowing them to vote multiple times in favour of Salome Zurabishvili". The organisations received the allegations from an unnamed whistle-blower from the PSDA.
The organisations said:
"The Prosecution’s statement contains indirect threat of prosecution of those human rights groups that refuse to disclose their sources, and thus “represents a dire warning” to those individuals who provide rights activists with vital information about human rights abuses."
17 CSOs Warn Prosecution Against Censuring Human Rights Watchdogs https://t.co/5ns0aKKGmV— Eka Gigauri (@katgigauri) November 23, 2018