A group of civil society organizations have condemned PM Irakli Garibashvili’s October 22 statement which, they said, amounted to condoning violence amid series of attacks on offices of opposition UNM party in up to twenty towns across the country.
In a joint statement ten human rights monitoring, legal advocacy and think-tank organizations have called on the authorities “to immediately eradicate violent actions” and “refrain from aggressive rhetoric.”
Pro-government groups held this week series of rallies outside offices of UNM party in various towns during which, in some places, UNM offices’ doors were nailed or welded shut and in some locations offices were graffitied or red paints thrown at them and windows shattered.
Such incidents were reported from Kutaisi; Batumi; Rustavi; Zugdidi; Poti; Gori; Lanchkhuti; Ozurgeti; Chokhatauri; Akhaltsikhe; Aspindza; Keda; Shuakhevi; Tetritskaro; Sachkhere; Kharagauli; Tskaltubo; Telavi; Gurjaani. A red paint was also thrown at the Mikheil Saakashvili Presidential Library in Tbilisi.
These incidents took place after a graphic video of sexual abuse of two detainees by law enforcement officers that took place in 2011, when UNM was in power, was posted on October 17 on Ukraine-based video sharing website. The video was from the cache found by the current authorities in 2013 in Samegrelo region. 11 people were convicted, some in absentia, in connection to that case of torture of detainees. The video footage was leaked just after polls, showing sharp decline in support of GD ruling coalition, were released, prompting allegation by government opponents that the authorities leaked the video to distract public attention from unfavorable polls and to give ruling coalition politicians a reason to speak again about those crimes that were committed when UNM was in power. Pro-government groups organized outdoor screening of these graphic videos in downtown Tbilisi and Zugdidi on October 18, which was condemned by the Georgian Public Defender, civil society and rights groups. In Zugdidi the event was attended by city mayor Irakli Gogokhia of the GD ruling coalition.
PM Irakli Garibashvili, who is also the leader of the GD ruling coalition, said at a government session on October 22 that the UNM is a “criminal organization”, which has “no right to remain in politics” and “aggression” against the party is “natural” following the leak of videos of sexual abuse of detainees. Garibashvili said, referring to UNM: “They should be grateful for the fact that over the past three years people have not done to them the same what is depicted in these videos – my remarks might be rude, but they deserve it.”
“Against the backdrop of these events [attacks on UNM offices], statement made by PM [Irakli Garibashvili] on October 22 is even more alarming,” reads the statement by civil society organizations. “Such a statement from high ranking political office holder represents justification and incitement of violence, which may create threat to securing rule and order in the country.”
The statement also notes selective reaction of police on various incidents that took place recently.
“There has not been a relevant legal response to illegal actions against the Georgian Constitutional Court members. There was either no reaction or minimal reaction to multiple cases of physical insult against UNM representatives. Meanwhile, participants of a rally in support of Rustavi 2 TV were arrested, criminal charges initiated and sent to pretrial detention,” reads the statement.
“Reaction [of law enforcement agencies] should not be selective,” it says, adding that such approach causes suspicion that the law enforcement agencies are being politicized and used for political party interests.
“Against the backdrop of tense political process, we deem it necessary the government to immediately eradicate violent actions, refrain from aggressive rhetoric and public statements that incite violence, as well as to provide for stable and calm conditions for all civil society and political groups. Public rhetoric of leadership of the law enforcement agencies and representatives of political circles should be directed towards supporting stable and pluralistic environment, where each and every violent act will be reacted appropriately,” reads the statement.
“Regrettably, sequence of recent events indicates to unified plan, which is clearly directed towards shrinking of diverse and critical public space, which is extremely alarming. It is directly fraught with the risk of civil confrontation and poses threat to multi-party democracy,” reads the statement, adding that it is the responsibility of the authorities to prevent such development.
The statement was signed by Transparency International Georgia; Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association; Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center; International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy; Georgia’s Reforms Associates; Open Society-Georgia Foundation; Civil Development Agency; Identoba; Article 42 of Constitution.