Amnesty International Calls on government to address pre-election harassment incidents

On July 20, London-based Amnesty International published a document titled: Georgia: Authorities Must Stop Violence Against Opposition Ahead of Elections. The organization has observed pre-election conditions inside the country, analyzed and evaluated reports of the institutions working on human rights such as Transparency International, OSCE and GYLA (Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association) and released a summarizing document.

An NGO focused on human rights with over 3 million members and supporters around the world, Amnesty International has expressed concerns regarding the inability of the government to protect opposition supporters and journalists from “what appears to be politically targeted violence”.

The organization called on the Georgian government to punish those who are guilty. “The organization is calling on the Georgian government to ensure freedom of expression and association of all persons regardless of their political views or association and to bring those responsible for the recent attacks to justice, by following a thorough, impartial and effective investigation.”

Amnesty International has focused on three issues in the document: the oppression of the Georgian Dream Coalition, freedom of media and selective justice.

The organization has investigated findings regarding events in the Mereti and Karaleti villages published by the National Defender of Georgia, various Georgian NGOs and journalists. According to them in both cases, Georgian Dream Coalition supporters have been provoked and forced into fist-fights by representatives of local self-governments and other officials; consequently, the Georgian Dream Coalition was forced to break off their pre-election campaign and further avoid such places.

“Since the entry of Bidzina Ivanishvili into Georgian politics early this year, stringent regulatory and other mechanisms have been employed to control the political and financial activities of his newly formed political coalition Georgian Dream. Amnesty International has concluded that the ruling party is not trying to protecting the political opposition and in particular– the Georgian Dream Coalition, from oppression and pressure. In fact, it is indifferent to such incidents.

The issue of media freedom has been discussed and evaluated based upon interviews given by independent journalists such as Vasil Dabrundashvili, from GNS and Ekaterine Dugladze, a female journalist with the pro-opposition news agency INFO 9.

According to their statements, they have been persistently followed and harassed by a group of unidentified people: “They follow me everywhere by car or on foot, preventing me to move freely, interfere with filming, come physically very close when making inappropriate remarks about my work and private life and asking questions in a non-stop manner,” noted Ekaterine Dugladze.

Based upon individual complaints and information provided by Georgian NGOs, Amnesty International urged the authorities to ensure that “the journalists are able to work unhindered and without the fear of violence regardless of the political affiliation of the media outlets they represent.”

An issue of selective justice has been mentioned as concerns earlier by UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai. Amnesty International based its conclusions on comments made by the OSCE, Transparency International, GYLA, National Defender of Georgia and independent journalists.

Former Ambassador to Georgia, John Bass, criticized the State Audit Service (SAS), which oversees political party and campaign finances, for “applying a selective and an excessively rigid approach” toward Bidzina Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream Coalition.

Transparency International, GYLA and National Defender of Georgia emphasized facts of selective justice after controversial events occurred in Mereti and Karaleti villages. Despite the fact that several video recordings of the events show that representatives of local self-governments and other officials have been involved in the riots, measures haven’t been taken to restore justice.

Additionally, the interviewed journalists who have been followed and harassed by groups of unidentified people have noted that “there has not been any reaction from the police or prosecution.”

No comments regarding the paper published by Amnesty International have been made by representatives of the ruling party or by the Georgian government.

By and large, it seems that human rights organizations are really concerned about the political and social conditions inside the country during the pre-election period and the paper published by Amnesty International follows conclusions and comments released by Transparency International, GYLA, National Defender Office of Georgia, UN and the OSCE, which all call for the government to take decisive steps to address these issues.

The original article was published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here. PDF version.

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