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U.S. Human Rights Report on Georgia
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 26 Feb.'09 / 16:10

Closure of Prison Number 5 in Tbilisi, notorious for “substandard conditions” and resumed political talks shows on national televisions are named as “significant human rights achievements” in 2008 in the U.S. Department of State’s annual human rights report, released on February 25.

The report says that there were “credible reports that the government restricted freedom of speech and the press, especially after the May parliamentary elections.” It, however, also notes that “some of these restrictions were eased by year's end.”

“By the end of the year, television stations had resumed broadcasting major analytical political talk shows, with opposition and government figures appearing on the same shows and on all channels,” according to the report.

It, however, also says that issues related with media ownership remain unclear and in this context it notes about Rustavi 2 TV.

“No information was available as to the ownership of the GeoMedia Group, registered in the Marshall Islands, whose shares of Rustavi-2 declined from 55 to 40 percent on November 7,” the report reads.

It also says that very often journalists have no contracts with employers, “which in effect encouraged them to practice self-censorship.” “Journalists were hesitant to report something other than the owners' views, as they were afraid of losing their jobs,” the report reads.

In respect of judiciary system the document says that “reports persisted that the executive branch continued to pressure judicial authorities.”

Many non-governmental organizations, the report says, complained that judicial authorities “continued to act as a rubber stamp for prosecutors' decisions and that the executive branch exerted undue influence.”

The document, which often cites the Georgian Public Defender Sozar Subari’s human right reports, says that according to the Georgian ombudsman there are five political prisoners in the country: Merab Ratishvili, Joseph Jandieri, Ilia Tsurtsumia, Joni Jikia, and Dimitri Godabrelidze.

According to the report there were concerns about the lack of due process and respect for the rule of law in a number of property rights-related developments. The report, however, also notes that after the November, 2007, protest rallies and 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections the government “relaxed its stance on illegal constructions and allowed legalization of illegally erected constructions or acquired property, and public concerns died down.”

The report says that there were five attacks on religious minorities in 2008. “Police were quick to respond to incidents of abuse but slower in their follow-up to crimes they viewed as minor ‘hooliganism’,” it reads.

According to the report there was “a general consensus among public officials and civil society organizations that levels of petty corruption fell after the 2003 Rose Revolution.”

“In spite of this, high-level corruption remained a persistent concern, and observers considered the official anticorruption campaign too heavily focused on prosecution as opposed to prevention,” the report read.

In the introductory part of the report “the August conflict” – as the document puts it – is also raised in which it says:

“Repeated violations of a ceasefire by all sides in the separatist region of South Ossetia, including assassinations, bombings, and then exchanges of shelling, escalated tensions. On August 7, senior Georgian government officials reported that Tbilisi was launching an attack to defend against what it reported was a Russian invasion. Georgia launched a military operation into Tskhinvali, the local capital of Georgia's South Ossetian region, and other areas of the separatist region. The situation deteriorated further after Russia launched a military invasion using disproportionate force across the country's internationally recognized borders, responding to what Russian officials reported was Georgia's use of heavy force in Tskhinvali and the killings of Russian peacekeepers. Military operations by Georgian and Russian forces reportedly involved the use of indiscriminate force and resulted in civilian casualties, including of a number of journalists. There were allegations that South Ossetian militias engaged in executions, torture, ethnic attacks, and arson.”

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