The ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia party rushed in 2017 to approve constitutional reforms without securing broader political consensus, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual report released on January 18.
The report, which summarizes key human rights issues in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide, drawing on events from late 2016 through November 2017, noted that opposition parties, the President and non-governmental organizations “criticized the new constitution for postponing critical electoral reforms,” envisaging the introduction of fully proportional elections, until 2024.
The rights group also said that “Georgia does not have an effective independent mechanism for investigating abuse by law enforcement officials. Investigations, if launched, often lead to charges that carry lesser, inappropriate sanctions.”
In this context, HRW mentioned the case of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli who alleged that “several people wearing Georgian police uniforms” kidnapped him from central Tbilisi and later he resurfaced in Azerbaijani border police custody.
The report also noted that Georgia maintained “punitive criminal drug policies for drug users.” “Although numbers have decreased in recent years, authorities continued to use harsh drug laws to criminally prosecute people who use drugs, while treatment options remain limited,” the HRW said adding that “drug-related felonies often result in disproportionately long sentences, prohibitive fines, and deprivation of other rights.”
The Human Rights Watch named the rights of LGBT people as an area of concern. “The new constitution defined marriage as “a union of a woman and a man,” entrenching the definition that had existed for years in the civil code. Rights groups feared that using the constitution to reinforce a barrier to same-sex marriage could feed widespread homophobia,” the report reads and focuses on the facts of attacks on LGBT people and activists.
The rights groups also focused on the issue of media freedom and touched upon the decisions of the new leadership of the Georgian Public Broadcaster to suspend several political talk shows, as well as the ownership dispute over Georgia’s most-watched television broadcaster, Rustavi 2 that, according to HRW, raised concerns over “ongoing government interference with media.”