Covering events from January - December 2003
Members of minority faiths continued to be attacked. The first successful prosecutions for a series of such attacks over four years resulted in five suspended prison sentences. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported. Chechens sought by the authorities of the Russian Federation continued to be in danger of extradition. President Shevardnadze was forced to resign in November after days of mass demonstrations.
The 2 November parliamentary elections "fell short of a number of international standards", reported the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The flawed elections triggered mass demonstrations, culminating in a peaceful mass protest at parliament on 22 November. President Shevardnadze declared a state of emergency, but on 23 November resigned, to avoid bloodshed he said. The same day Nino Burdzhanadze, Speaker of the outgoing parliament, was declared interim President. Presidential elections were scheduled for January 2004 and new parliamentary elections for later in 2004.
Following the change of power, unidentified assailants carried out attacks allegedly directed at critics of the so-called "Rose Revolution". In late November the autonomous republic of Ajaria declared a state of emergency and the unrecognized breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia stated that they were stepping up security measures.
In September Georgia became a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, it entered into an impunity agreement with the USA not to surrender US nationals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes to the ICC. Such agreements are in breach of states' obligations under international law.
Public Defender (Ombudsperson)
During 2003 the Public Defender of Georgia published a report on human rights. Among other issues, the report deplored violent attacks on religious minorities and described the lack of prompt or appropriate action by the courts as "testimony of moral support for the perpetrators". It also highlighted numerous incidents of physical coercion exerted on detainees and of discrimination against women. The Public Defender criticized protracted and inconclusive investigation of human rights violations, and the Procurator General's "inappropriate" consideration of her recommendations.
Attacks on religious minorities
Religious minorities continued to face harassment, intimidation and violent attacks by supporters of the Georgian Orthodox Church. In many cases, the police failed to provide adequate protection for those targeted. The first prosecution of the perpetrators in a series of attacks resulted in suspended prison sentences for five men. Hundreds of other attackers remained unpunished. In his December report, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief urged the authorities to "put those responsible for violence or religious intolerance on trial and to take them into custody if the courts order a term of imprisonment or pre-trial detention."
- On 24 January defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili and a group of his supporters allegedly attacked religious believers gathering before an inter-denominational service in a Baptist church in the capital, Tbilisi. The attackers reportedly smashed church windows and physically and verbally abused the congregation. Baptist minister Otar Kalatozishvili and his two sons, Guram and Zaza, were reportedly beaten.
- On 4 November Rustavi City Court handed down suspended sentences of between two and four years' imprisonment on Paata Bluashvili, a radical supporter of the Orthodox church and member of the radical Jvari (Cross) group, and four supporters. They were convicted of involvement in two attacks on Jehovah's Witnesses. Reports suggested they had been involved in a series of such attacks.
Chechens accused of "terrorism" continued to face extradition to the Russian Federation where they risked serious human rights violations.
- On 16 May the Supreme Court refused to permit the extradition to the Russian Federation of three men reportedly detained by border guards near the village of Girevi in the Akhmeta district in August 2002. On 16 September the European Court of Human Rights declared admissible an application lodged in October 2002 against the extradition – believed imminent – of the three men, as well as 10 others arrested at the same time. The Court announced that it would take evidence from the 13 applicants and from witnesses in the Russian Federation and Georgia. Five of the 13 applicants had already been extradited to the Russian Federation in October 2002, and on 19 September the trial of four of them opened in Stavropol on charges including "terrorism" and "participation in an armed group".
- On 16 April, another man reportedly detained by Georgian law enforcement officers in August 2002, 22-year-old Amirkhan Lidigov, was handed over to Russian troops at the Lars border post. The Russian authorities reportedly accused him of fighting under Chechen commander Ruslan Gelayev.
Activists critical of the local authorities were reportedly harassed and intimidated, in particular in connection with the November parliamentary elections.
- Giorgi Mshevenieradze of the non-governmental Georgian Young Lawyers Association was held in custody in Batumi from 2 November to 7 December. He was detained by police after he had observed election fraud in the parliamentary elections in a polling station in the town of Kobuleti.
In the disputed region of Abkhazia, a de facto moratorium on executions remained in force. At least 25 death sentences had been passed since it declared independence from Georgia. Nine death row prisoners escaped from the investigation-isolation prison in Sukhumi in April. Some were recaptured; one died in his cell on 15 June.
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