Bridenapping case in southern Georgia sparks protests in Tbilisi

Peaceful Assembly

The kidnapping and forced marriage of a 17-year-old woman in the Marneuli region of southern Georgia sparked protests in the capital, Tbilisi. On 30th April, 2017, Georgian human rights activists gathered in front of the Prosecutor’s Office to petition the government to take action on the issue of early and forced marriage practices. Though deprivation of liberty is punishable in Georgia with up to four years' imprisonment, OC-Media reported that in many such cases of bridenapping, the victim's parents usually come to an agreement with the kidnapper and the authorities cannot interfere. Protest organisers, the Georgian Women's Movement, stated that "the authorities perceive bridenapping as a tradition, and not a criminal offense". 

The kidnapping of Azeri journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli, who has lived in exile in Tbilisi since 2015, also sparked protests in early June 2017. Following his forced return to the Azeri authorities, the public outcry in Georgia was immediate, as was condemnation from the international community. 

Over 50 Georgian journalists addressed a letter to the Georgian Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, criticising the government for its lack of action on the Mukhtarli case. According to the news portal - Civil.ge, the journalists requested “relevant information on [unaddressed] questions” related to the case, adding that the suspected involvement of Georgian security services “not only harm the country’s image, but also significantly aggravates the level of human rights protection in Georgia”. 

On 19th June 2017, Kvirikashvili, requested that those protesting the government's inaction on the case avoid making premature conclusions. “The investigation is underway; we need to let the state institutions complete the ongoing procedures”, the Prime Minister stated.

Expression

On 2nd May 2017, the Chair of the Supreme Court, Nino Gvenetadze, published her opinion on the Rustavi 2 TV channel case from March 2017, when the Georgian Supreme Court transferred ownership of the channel to its former owner, Kibar Khalvashi. Civil society and the political opposition have strongly objected to the decision, arguing it could negatively impact media freedom and democracy because Khalvashi has close ties to Georgia's ruling party. The European Court of Human Rights is considering the case and has issued an indefinite moratorium on implementation of the Supreme Court's decision. 

According to the results of a National Democratic Institute (NDI) survey conducted in April 2017, 56 percent of Georgians polled believe that the current ruling authorities influenced the court in this case. Laura Thornton, Director of NDI's Georgian office, stated that most people who know about Rustavi 2 believe that the ownership transfer was not fairly done.