Series of screenings by a government-backed group of a 16-minute video clip, “Saakashvili’s Bloody Regime”, showing graphic images, among them of inhuman treatment of inmates, in presence of public school pupils in municipal theater halls of several towns in western Georgia has sparked outcry over violation of children’s rights and accusations against the authorities of instilling hatred.
The video clip was made by pro-government group called All Generations for Georgia. Its representative Gia Salukvadze, who was included by the parliament in the list of “political prisoners” and released from jail in early 2013 as part of a broad amnesty, said that screenings aim at “reminding people about bloody nine years under Saakashvili’s regime.”
Series of screenings started from Batumi on March 12 and continued in the towns of the Samegrelo region, including Zugdidi, Poti, Khobi and Senaki, in following days.
Reports suggest that representatives of local authorities were involved in organizing of these screenings and ensuring attendance of the audience at those events, including also of school pupils. According to some reports several school principals were instructed by local educational resource centers under the Ministry of Education to send teachers and pupils at the screenings and some attendees said that local self-government officials organized ferrying of people at the screenings with minibuses.
One school pupil told a local TV station in Zugdidi that she and her classmates were told by their class teacher to attend the event. “We did not know what it was and the teacher did not know it either,” she said. Several other pupils in other towns said that they were mislead as they were told the event was about presenting “new projects” in their towns, but instead found themselves at the screening of this video.
In a joint statement on March 16, a group of several human rights groups condemned these screenings and presence of pupils there as violation of children’s rights and said that the state has failed to provide for the protection of the children from information and material “injurious” to their wellbeing and mental health.
The rights groups also note on the political aspects of those screenings, saying that involvement of “representatives of local self-governance bodies and ministry’s educational resource centers in this illegal act” represents “the use of administrative resources for election/political purposes.” Speakers from the group, which organized the screenings, were slamming at the events formerly ruling and now opposition UNM party and praising the current government.
“It is obvious that organized involvement of educational institutions in such events contradicts the principle of general education policy obliging the state to ensure independence of public schools from political groups,” the rights groups said.
“It is impossible to develop the country and democratic society through such manipulation with people, especially minors, as well as through sewing more aggression and hatred,” reads the statement by Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association; Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center; International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy; Transparency International Georgia, and Civil Development Agency.
Commenting on the issue, PM Irakli Garibashvili told journalists on March 16 that he does “not welcome” involvement of minors in such events, but he tried to shift the blame on opposition UNM party by saying that it was “possibly a provocation”.
“I do not welcome brining of minors and lower graders to [these screenings], but I also want to say that, as I was explained, it was possibly a provocation as representatives of Free Zone [pro-UNM group] were brought at the [screening],” Garibashvili said, echoing allegation voiced by the group, which organized the screenings, suggesting that Free Zone sent minors at the screenings in order to cause a stir and discredit the authorities.
After series of media reports on the issue over the weekend, the Ministry of Education released on March 16 a written statement, saying that it has launched a probe into reported role of its educational resource centers in organizing presence of school pupils at those screenings.
“This is a gross violation of children’s rights,” the ministry said in the statement. “Any sign of politicization of schools is unacceptable.”
“Appropriate measures will be immediately taken if confirmed that representatives of [education ministry’s] agencies were somehow involved in this process,” it said.