Civil society decries attacks and prosecution of journalists

Peaceful Assembly

In November 2019, the Georgian Parliament failed to pass a law which would change the voting system from a majoritarian to a fully proportional voting system with a zero threshold, as it failed to achieve a majority vote from Members of Parliament. According to the proposed law, the parliamentary elections, scheduled for autumn 2020, would be organised under a proportional electoral system. The ruling party had agreed to have the next parliamentary elections held under a fully proportional electoral system following protests in June 2019. After the Bill failed to sail through in parliament, the opposition parties announced that new protests would be held in February 2020, and vowed to block the parliament building in central Tbilisi as they accused the ruling party of cheating the people by scrapping the Bill.Civil society organizations asked authorities to adopt the proportional voting system.

On 9th January 2020, protests broke out in Sukhumi, the capital of the self-proclaimed breakaway Republic of Abkhazia (a region of Georgia, whose independence was recognised by the Russian Federation and by a few other states after the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008). The protesters denounced Raul Khajimba’s win from last September’s elections which they termed as fraudulent. On 10th January 2020, the Supreme Court nullified the September election results after a petition by opposition leader Alkhas Kvitsinia. On 12th January 2020, Khajimba’s resignation was announced to protesters after the legislature also called on him to step down.

Separately, in their annual Human Rights Report released in January 2020, Human Rights Watch noted that impunity for violations committed by law enforcement officers remains a continuing problem in Georgia. The report cites several documented cases of the use of force against protesters in 2019, including:

Expression

In January 2020, the general director of pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV Channel, Nika Gvaramia, was physically assaulted by three people outside the Tbilisi City Court where he had gone to attend the hearing of a case against one of the TV channel’s co-founders, Giorgi Rurua. The Media Advocacy Coalition called for a timely investigation of the case while noting the need for political intervention around the security of journalists and media freedom. Their statement read in part:

“We are alarmed by the frequent verbal aggression against the critical media and its encouragement, which inevitably leads to physical attacks on media representatives. We call on senior officials to bring the issues of journalist security and media freedom to the political agenda”.

In a separate development, on 3rd February 2020, the Human Rights House Foundation published a statement calling on the Russian government to push for the dropping of charges against journalist and human rights defender Tamara Mearakishvili, a Georgian resident of the de facto South Ossetia. Tamara Mearakishvili was charged by the de facto South Ossetian authorities with defamation after an interview with newspaper “The Echo of Moscow” was published, where she spoke about corruption in government. Since the publication, Mearakishvili has faced several criminal charges and a travel ban.

Following the release of the Human Rights Watch annual report, civil society experts decried the situation of media freedom in Georgia, citing the report’s assessment. Media expert Lasha Tugushi in his interview with Interpress news said the report showed that Georgia is not amongst countries with media freedom.