Far-Right Groups Massively Attack Journalists
At least twenty journalists have been attacked by hate groups gathered in a counter-rally against today’s Tbilisi Pride March, according to the latest media reports.
Those attacked include journalists and cameramen from television channels TV Pirveli, Formula TV, Rustavi 2, Imedi TV, Georgian Public Broadcaster, Mtavari Arkhi and online media outlets On.ge, Netgazeti and Tabula, reports say.
TV Pirveli said counterprotesters smashed its equpments, while Tabula Magazine noted its journalist Mako Jabua was hit by a stick. Several journalists reportedly sustained various degrees of injuries.
The Interior Ministry said it has launched investigations into cases of interference with journalist’s professional activities (Article 154, Criminal Code) and violence (Article 126). The statement did not specify how many incidents have taken place.
The statement also called on Tbilisi Pride activists not to hold the March “in an open public space” because of the “scale” of the ongoing counter-rally.
“The situation poses a real threat to the life and health of representatives of the media and hampers their journalistic activities,” stated the Public Defender of Georgia following the attacks.
Ombudsperson Nino Lomjaria called on the law enforcement agencies to “use legal mechanisms” to remove alleged offenders from public spaces, and reminded the state authorities of their constitutional obligation to protect freedom of peaceful expression and assembly “including by responding to counter-demonstrators’ violent actions.”
Public Defender’s Statement on Mikheil Saakashvili's Detention Conditions
The Public Defender's Office has visited the third President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who is placed in Penitentiary Establishment No. 12, several times. We have been observing in detail the state of his health and conditions in the penitentiary establishment. We have intensive communication with the administration of the penitentiary system, as well as medical personnel, regarding Saakashvili’s health condition, with the consent of the latter.
It should be noted that no breaches have been reported so far in terms of provision of living conditions for the third President; adequate attention is paid to him by the medical staff of the penitentiary facility.
At the same time, the Public Defender of Georgia would like to respond to the information spread by the Special Penitentiary Service about Mikheil Saakashvili's health condition (blood pressure, pulse, saturation, glucose) and other personal data (items purchased by him). While it is clear that there is a high public interest in the health condition of the third President of the country, the agency has an obligation to inform the public only within reasonable limits. Health-related information belongs to special category data and its disclosure in detail, without the permission of the person concerned, poses a risk of violation of the law on the one hand and may contribute to the prisoner’s distrust towards the penitentiary system on the other hand, including towards the medical personnel.
The issuance of such statements by the Penitentiary Service or high political officials poses an additional risk that the prisoner, who is on a hunger strike, may also refuse to receive medical care. Therefore, we negatively evaluate any statement that pushes the prisoner to resort to a more severe form of hunger strike and further aggravates his health condition.
The Public Defender's Office will continue to monitor the rights situation of the third President of Georgia and will periodically provide information to the public.
Public Defender Demands Criminal Prosecution of Two Persons for Organizing Group Violence and Calling for Violence on July 5
Two months have passed since the violent events of July 5, but the Georgian Prosecutor's Office has not launched criminal prosecution against any individual for organizing group violence. The Public Defender Nino Lomjaria examined the video footage released by the media and considers that the publicly available evidence reaches the standard of probable cause for launching criminal proceedings against two persons for organizing group violence as well as for publicly calling for violence.
Pursuant to Article 21 (c) of the Organic Law of Georgia on the Public Defender of Georgia, the Public Defender is entitled to request the initiation of an investigation and/or criminal prosecution if the examination of the case shows elements of crime. Accordingly, the Public Defender has already used the authority granted by the organic law and applied to the Prosecutor's Office with a request to initiate criminal proceedings against Zurab Makharadze and Spiridon Tskipurishvili.
The proposal to launch prosecution was based on publicly released videos showing that before the July 5 violence, on Alt-Info TV, Zurab Makharadze and other individuals had been continuously announcing violence against participants in the event planned by Tbilisi Pride. Violent calls were also heard against journalists. The same individuals spread information on television about the formation of groups with the direct purpose of violence on July 5.
It is substantiated in the Public Defender’s proposal that Zurab Makharadze personally led the group violence on July 5, including the removal of protest tents in front of the legislative body and the allocation of various groups to raid the offices of the Shame Movement and Tbilisi Pride.
Finally, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia, 53 persons were identified as victims of the group violence on July 5, 2021, and criminal proceedings were launched against 27 persons. However, no one has been prosecuted for organizing group violence.
In addition, the Public Defender made another proposal to the Prosecutor General's Office and demanded the launch of criminal proceedings against Spiridon Tskipurishvili for publicly calling for violent actions. It was established according to the standard of probable cause that on July 5, at about 14:14, the Archpriest of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Spiridon Tskipurishvili, by using a microphone and sound enhancer devices, called on citizens to be violent, thus went beyond the freedom of expression and committed an action forbidden by Article 2391 of the Criminal Code of Georgia – call for violence that creates an obvious, direct and substantial threat of violence.
The Public Defender continues to gather information about the investigation ongoing into the July 5 violence and, if necessary, will again use the authority given to her by the organic law.
STATEMENT OF THE MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS
First of all, the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemns actions motivated by violence, including any form of violence against media representatives. We call on citizens gathered in the streets of the capital to observe law and order, adhere to the rightful requests of the police and protest any issue within the frames of the law.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs launched an investigation with regard to illegal activities carried out at the offices of the “Shame Movement” and “Tbilisi Pride” in Tbilisi under the Article 187 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which envisages damage or destruction of another person’s property.Some of the citizens gathered on Rustaveli Avenue tried to break into the office of the “Shame Movement” behind the Parliament building. Journalists were in the office and were covering the current events. Rally participants also damaged their equipment.The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia launched an investigation under the Article 187 (Damage or Destruction of another Person’s Property) on the fact of removal of a flag, destruction and damage of inventory by demonstrators from the “Tbilisi Pride” office located at N17 Akhvlediani Street in Tbilisi.The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has already informed the society that, in addition to already mentioned violations, the investigation was also launched on the facts of violence against media representatives and illegal interference in their professional activities occurred today on Rustaveli Avenue. All relevant investigative activities will be carried out on the stated facts and all materials reflecting incidents will be examined.We call on the mass media members, taking into account the existing risks to cooperate with the police, to take into account the instructions and recommendations of the representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.The police forces remain mobilized in the streets of the capital and continue maintenance of public order. We once again call on everyone to follow the requirements of the law. Otherwise, the police will act within its’ own mandate and each case of violation will be prevented and a strict legal response will be followed.
Parliament Speaker: We leave doors open for parties to join
Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze is grateful to the European Council President Charles Michel and special envoy Christian Danielsson for their mediation leadership.
“Even though the opposition was not ready to sign, we’ll guide judicial and electoral reforms by Danielsson’s proposal. We leave doors open for parties to join,” Talakvadze tweeted.
The ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party and the opposition could not agree on a solution, Christian Danielsson briefed reporters following the hours-long joint meeting between GD and the opposition on Tuesday.
The opposition failed to provide any evidence on elections fraud. But, we showed evidence that the radical opposition forged the parallel vote tabulation (PVT) results”, Irakli Kobakhidze, the Chairman of the Georgian Dream party, said after a joint meeting mediated by EU mediator Christian Danielsson.
“Today, the international partners presented a document in which there was no record, either directly or indirectly, on any snap elections,” he added.
Kobakhidze stated that the document by Danielsson included GD’s proposal on Nika Melia’s case. “In particular, in case of paying bail, Georgian Dream pledged to ensure application of amnesty bill in the June 20th case. However, the opposition rejected this solution,” he said.
Christian Danielsson, a personal envoy of the European Council President Charles Michel, said after the talks today that none of the parties agreed on a solution.
Besides, EU mediator Christian Danielson published the proposals made to political parties.
Danielsson said he proposed a solution to the parties that puts the country interest first, but none of the political parties could agree to it. EU mediator has already left for Brussels.
Danielsson returned to Tbilisi for the second time on Sunday to help the opposition and the government reaching an agreement. He first arrived in Tbilisi on March 12. After a five-day mediation that ended with no result, he left the country.
Charles Michel announced on March 22 that Christian Danielsson would travel back to Georgia to help the parties to agree.
The Georgian opposition parties that won seats in the Georgian Parliament of the 10th Convocation believe the 2020 parliamentary elections were a fraud. They have been demanding repeat parliamentary elections and the release of the United National Movement Chair, Nika Melia, and the co-founder of the TV channel Mtavari Arkhi Giorgi Rurua.
Meeting between Public Defender and US Ambassador
On March 22, 2021, Nino Lomjaria, Public Defender of Georgia, met with Kelly Degnan, Ambassador of the United States of America to Georgia.
The topic of discussion was the situation of human rights in Georgia. The Public Defender also spoke about the challenges faced by the Office, especailly in recent months, and the obstacles that hinder the full implementation of the Public Defender's mandate, for example when paying visits to semi-open prisons.
"Another visit paid by the US Ambassador to the Public Defender’s Office once again confirms the support that has been constantly expressed by the US Government to our Office," Nino Lomjaria said.
“It was a very informative meeting. It's important to have conversations with the Public Defender and find out what they are working on. It is an essential part of a strong democracy to have a Public Defender's Office that is defending the human rights of all the people of Georgia, working to keep transparency and accountability and democracy strong. I was very sorry to hear that there have been some attacks against the Public Defender's Office. That kind of hate speech is a toxic language, especially against an office that is serving the public in such an important way.
The Public Defender's Office also plays such an important role in keeping public officials accountable, something that Georgia needs to do more; more accountability, more transparency and less hate speech and vicious attacks against others“, the US Ambassador said after the meeting.
Public Defender of Georgia