Embassy of Iran in Tbilisi released a written statement on March 9 criticizing Georgia’s Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani for “unprofessional and unthoughtful” remarks, which have also been slammed by some rights groups as “xenophobic.”
The Ministry of Justice responded that the Iranian embassy’s reaction was “regrettable.”
Remarks in question were made by Tsulukiani on February 18 in an interview with the Tbilisi-based Imedi TV when she was defending visa and migration reform through which the authorities tightened regulations last year, citing the need to put them in line with Georgia’s visa liberalisation action plan with the EU.
“Not everybody can be happy with the large-scale reform,” she said. “For example, the agency of tourism is not [happy]… When this [visa and migration] reform was enforced on September 1, it caused decline in the inflow of tourists by 42,000 people in the last four months of 2014 – Chinese, Iraqis, Iranians, and Egyptians... Therefore, as we slashed [these numbers] and as we achieved success in Brussels [referring to EU’s decision to launch second phase of visa liberalisation action plan with Georgia], we are expecting some kind of success at the [Eastern Partnership] Riga Summit – not everything can be done at a single summit, but it should be [declared at the summit] that a perspective of [visa-free travel with the EU] is opened. After that we will be able to control within the set framework and let those who are our country’s well-wishers, tourists, or, most importantly, investors in [the country].”
Responding to these remarks, the Iranian embassy in Tbilisi said in its statement: “Couple of wise words about unprofessional and unthoughtful remarks made by Georgian Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani about Iranians and citizens of Iran.”
“Since the restoration of Georgia’s independence in 1992, Iran, which has 3,000 years of history of the brilliant civilization and which has a special place in the world, has always stood by Georgia. Iran was one of the first countries to recognize Georgia’s independence and to establish friendly relations [with Georgia]; it has been supporting Georgia in any kind of difficulties and challenges throughout last 33 years,” reads the statement, headlined: “Couple of critical remarks about Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani’s statement”.
“Second: throughout the history, whichever country Iranians, who are wise people of high culture, had to live in, they served those countries’ prosperity, success and wellbeing. Therefore, restrictions imposed on Iranian investors and tourists can be regarded as loss of knowledge, capital and valuable service of Iranian friends.”
“At the same time, it will not affect relations between the peoples of the world, regardless of racist and xenophobic views held by some,” reads the statement.
Georgia unilaterally revoked visa-free rules for Iranian citizens in July, 2013 – more than a year before Tbilisi tightened its overall migration and visa policies. At the time the move was criticized by senior Iranian lawmakers and the issue was also raised by the Iranian authorities when Georgian parliament speaker, Davit Usupashvili, visited Tehran late in January, 2015.
When in June, 2013 the Wall Street Journal reported about increased business activities of the Iranian nationals in Georgia, suggesting that some of their businesses were possibly used for evading sanctions, Justice Minister Tsulukiani responded that the Georgian authorities were closely monitoring business activities of Iranians and providing “strict control” over enforcement of sanctions against Iran; she also said at the time that the authorities froze about 150 bank accounts of Iranian individuals and legal entities in Georgia.
The Ministry of Justice responded that “such an assessment” from the embassy of Iran was “regrettable.”
It said that the visa and migration reform, which was required as Georgia aims at visa liberalisation with the EU, caused “inconveniences for many of our compatriots, as well as for some foreign citizens.”
“The Justice Minister stressed just that point and noted that there is no large-scale reform devoid of difficulties at the initial stage. The minister is personally working together with colleagues to solve these difficulties,” the Justice Ministry said. “In the same remarks the Justice Minister also added that rules are already in place and it will open opportunity for Georgia to gradually start considering targeted easing of tight regulations in order to foster investments and not only investments, including from Iran, Syria, Iraq and other countries with which visa requirements have been imposed.”
“It is regrettable that the Justice Minister’s remarks, which were oriented on business and showing perspectives for solutions, caused such an assessment from the embassy of Iran. Despite of that, the Justice Ministry will continue to work on the one hand towards achieving success on country’s European path and on the other hand towards creating relevant conditions for entry and stay in Georgia for investors, tourists, students and representatives of other professions from Iran, which is Georgia’s long-standing partner and the country with great civilization,” the Georgian Justice Ministry said.
Tsulukiani’s February 18 remarks were also criticized by a group of ten Tbilisi-based human rights, advocacy and think-tank organizations, which said in their joint statement on March 6 that Justice Minister’s comments were “xenophobic and clearly discriminatory towards people of the ethnic groups named by the Minister, since she equates them with people who wish Georgia harm and should not be allowed to enter the country.”
“Such statements contradict universal principles of human rights. Moreover, they are completely in line with the rhetoric cultivated in our society by radical groups. It is especially alarming that such a populist narrative is propagated by a high-ranking political official,” reads the joint statement by Georgian Young Lawyers Association; Georgia’s Reform Associates; Transparency International Georgia; Georgian Democracy Initiative; Media Development Foundation; Identoba; Tolerance and Diversity Institute; Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center; Article 42 of the Constitution, and Safari.
“In addition, the Minister of Justice propagates a false idea that such a discriminatory approach – restriction of entry of representatives of certain countries and ethnic groups into the country – is a precondition of Georgia’s success on the course to integration with the EU. This, in its turn, contributes to deepening false and stereotypical ideas about Europe,” it says.