The U.S. Department of State’s annual human rights report says that “significant shortcomings in the administration of justice, including pressure on the judiciary in selected cases,” as well as “questionable” judicial appointments, “inconsistent” government responses to violence or abuse were among “the most significant human rights problems” in Georgia last year.
The report, released on April 13, also lists among the most significant problems “arbitrary detentions” of the Georgian citizens by the Russian forces along the administrative boundary line with breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia; inappropriate use of pretrial detention; insufficient government efforts to combat societal discrimination against women, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities, and persons with disabilities.
“Other problems included substandard prison conditions; ineffective mechanisms to address alleged abuses by law enforcement officials; allegations of improper electronic surveillance; political pressure on independent television broadcasters; restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association; substandard living conditions for internally displaced persons (IDPs); violence against the political opposition and lack of accountability; and government corruption,” reads the report.
The report says that although there was “progress on judicial reform, the government did not fully respect judicial independence.” In this regard the report refers to the case of Rustavi 2 TV ownership dispute, which is discussed separately in the section on freedom of press.
“Although the government contended the Rustavi 2 case was a legal dispute between private parties, the lower court’s actions were widely seen as an attempt to change the editorial policy of Rustavi 2, which often espoused views sympathetic to the opposition UNM party,” reads the report.
It also says that “for many” the ruling of a lower court in early November 2015 to appoint temporary administrators replacing Rustavi 2 TV’s director and chief financial officer, “called into question the government’s commitment to media freedom, political pluralism, and judicial independence.” The ruling was then overturned by the appellate court.
“Media observers, NGO representatives, and opposition politicians alleged that a former prime minister [Bidzina Ivanishvili] continued to exert a powerful influence over the government and judiciary, including in the lower court decisions against owners of the Rustavi 2 television station,” reads the report, which also mentions the case of removal of two political talk shows and their host Inga Grigolia by Imedi TV in late August 2015; Grigolia, who is now hosting news program in a newly launched channel TV Pirveli, alleged political motives behind her sacking from the Imedi TV.
Citing a group of civil society organizations, united in the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, the report says that judges’ failure to provide reasons for their decisions; insufficiently transparent, merit-based, and clear criteria for the selection, appointment, and transfer of judges; interference in cases; the probationary period for judges to be considered for life-time appointments; and nontransparent disciplinary procedures are “significant challenges to judicial independence.”
The report, however, also notes, citing court observers, that there was “some improvement in courts’ adjudication of typical cases” as the percentage of rulings upholding unsubstantiated motions for preventive measures reportedly continued to decrease. The report also says that the government took steps “to promote accountability and address shortcomings in the administration of justice.”
Like the previous report, the new one also says that despite progress since 2012, “the new government was reluctant to investigate abuses committed during its tenure by penitentiary officials and police.”
According to the report the authorities opened investigations into prisoners’ allegations of abuse, “but the public defender criticized the lack of completed investigations, filing of charges, or disciplinary action against officials alleged to have committed abuses.”
The report mentions cases of attacks on UNM opposition party’s offices by pro-government groups in October 2015.
“Violence against opposition party activists in recent years did not result in meaningful accountability,” reads the report.
It also says that while the government implemented the law “effectively against low-level corruption, high-level corruption remained a problem.”
In the section on freedom of movement, the report said that “de facto authorities and Russian forces in the occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia restricted the movement of the local population across the administrative boundaries for medical care, pension services, religious services, and education.”
“These restrictions were tightened by increased Russian ‘borderization’ of both administrative boundary lines, which further stymied freedom of movement and created physical barriers and obstructing access to agricultural land, water supplies, and cemeteries,”
According to the Georgian State Security Service’s annual report to the Parliament, 163 people were detained by the Russian forces in breakaway South Ossetia for, what they call it, “illegal border crossing” in 2015. In most of the cases detainees are released in two or three days after paying fines.