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Public Defender Under Fire from Ruling Party
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 15 Jul.'08 / 21:56

Ruling party lawmakers have attacked Public Defender Sozar Subari, accusing him of “political bias” and “incompetence,” which they said has led “to a discrediting” of the Ombudsman’s Office.

The criticism came after the public defender delivered his 2007 report on human rights to Parliament on July 15.

Subari started his address with, what he called, an outline of the deteriorating freedom of media. He recalled developments surrounding Imedi TV, in particular the police raid on the television station on November 7, 2007, which resulted in the destruction of station equipment and assaults on journalists working there.

“No one has been held responsible for these inhuman acts against journalists and Imedi TV,” Subari said.

He then spoke of recent developments surrounding Tbilisi-based Kavkasia TV and Lagodekhi-based Hereti radio station, which airs in the Kakheti region. He said that both stations were experiencing problems, as businesses were being forced to pull their ads.

He also condemned the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) decision not to allow Tbilisi-based Maestro TV to start political programming. Subari said that the court process surrounding the case was being dragged out deliberately by the GNCC.

Subari then mentioned alleged violations of the right of freedom of assembly.

“November's events showed that the authorities are intolerant of demonstrations,” he said.

Not only had excessive force been used to disperse demonstrators on November 7, Subari said, but there was an allegation that firearms had also been used. He said there had been “an alternative (unofficial) medical examination” showing that three protesters had gunshot wounds.

Subari also said law enforcement agents had used rubber bullets, which was illegal. The public defender cited the Law on Police, which lists special equipment available to riot police. The list includes tear gas, water cannons and rubber batons, but not rubber bullets.

“Hence the issue of responsibility of not only individual riot policemen should be raised, but those high-ranking Interior Ministry officials, who authorized the purchase and then use of rubber bullets, should also be held responsible, including Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili,” Subari told lawmakers.

Subari also said that the violation of property rights by the authorities started to increase in 2004 and the trend became “especially worrisome” in 2007.

“Violation of property rights included the destruction of legally built buildings, cases of intimidation of owners, who were threatened with the arrest of their relatives for the possession of planted drugs if they refused to voluntarily hand over their properties to the state,” Subari said. “150 families in Shuakhevi [Adjara Autonomous Republic] were deprived of their property, but the state restored it only on the eve of the [January 5] presidential election.”

Unlike Subari’s previous addresses to Parliament in recent years, this one prompted many questions from ruling party MPs.

MP Khatuna Gogorishvili, for instance, wanted to know why the human rights situation in the Gali district had been “ignored” in the public defender’s report. Subari told her that 25 pages of the report were dedicated to the matter.

Gogorishvili then asked Subari to specify the section of the report dealing with what she called the dispute between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church over several churches in Georgia. She also asked him to explain what he meant by “xenophobic cases” in the Georgian media. Jondi Bagaturiaker of the opposition Georgian Troupe Party then told the public defender that although he was “positively disposed” towards him, Subari’s allegation of “xenophobic cases” in the media and his stance on disputed churches, “erased everything positive” in the report.

MP Gogorishvili also recalled the public defender’s criticism of the concordat signed between the Orthodox Church and the Georgian State in 2002. The concordat gives important privileges to the Orthodox Church. Criticism of the concordat, with the Georgian Orthodox Church enjoying the highest approval rating of any institution in the country, is highly unpopular.

Although in overall the parliamentary minority welcomed the public defender’s report, there were some critical remarks as well. Levan Vepkhvadze of the Christian-Democratic Party told Subari that his inability to protect his own rights (Subari was attacked and beaten on November 7) was discrediting his office, with people believing that the office would also fail to protect their rights.

“As was expected, we have heard a biased, one-sided, politically-motivated and incompetent report,” MP Petre Tsiskarishvili, the parliamentary majority leader, said. “Such one-sided reports have discredited the Public Defender’s Office."

“Your report amounts to a discrediting of the Public Defender’s Office,” MP Eldar Kvernadze of the ruling party told the public defender. “All institutions have been strengthened in Georgia except the Public Defender’s Office. We have heard a politically-motivated report.”

MP Giorgi Gabashvili of the ruling party said that the public defender had spoken about the November 7 events without taking into account the other side of the story.

He said that the anti-government demonstrations were organized not for the purpose of expressing protest peacefully, but of overthrowing the government.

“There was no difference between the statements of the opposition and the report we have heard. It was a typical address by an opposition politician. We have heard only rumors,” MP Gabashvili said. “We have heard an extremely one-sided assessment of the November 7 events.”

“A report which is based only on negative issues without in-depth objective analysis amounts to a statement of an opposition politician and discredits the entire Public Defender’s Office,” MP Gabashvili added.

Subari responded that he had presented pure facts and he could not understand what the ruling party lawmakers meant by “a need for objective assessment.”

After the hearing Parliament passed a resolution saying it “has taken note of the public defender’s report” – a similar wording was used by Parliament in response to last year's public defender’s report.

“It is of course up to Parliament whether to only take note of the report, or to recommend that the appropriate state agencies respond to the violations presented in the report; but if Parliament fails to do that [call on state agencies to respond], it will mean that those very concrete cases of human rights violations will never be investigated and the negative trend will continue,” Subari told lawmakers.

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