Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Georgia

Political context

At the beginning of January 2008, the early presidential elections won in the first round by Mr. Mikhail Saakashvili did not put an end to the country's political instability. While the OSCE expressed some reservations about a campaign that was highly polarised,1 the opposition strongly contested the validity of these elections. Firstly, a dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition group was opened, essentially on the question of election reforms, one of the main opposition's demands. However, the situation rapidly deteriorated at the end of March, after Parliament adopted amendments to the Election Code and the Constitution favourable to the ruling party.2 This deterioration led to early parliamentary elections being held in May 2008, which were won by the President's United National Movement party, after a campaign in which the OSCE3 and local observers noted a number of cases of intimidation and obstruction.

The persistent problems inherent to the country – corruption, lack of judicial independence, media censorship, worrying conditions of detention – the emergence in the public debate of the issue of the large number of political prisoners, as well as the tension of the current regime in the face of popular discontent regarding economic and social problems, placed human rights defenders in a difficult situation throughout the two major crises of 2008. First of all, the election period was marked by numerous acts of verbal and physical violence, as well as by a certain number of acts of intimidation and threats by the representatives of the ruling party and the regional and electoral administration against civil servants working to hold free elections that were not falsified, NGO representatives, election observers and journalists. This atmosphere of violence reached its peak on May 21, 2008, the day of the parliamentary elections, and continued throughout the post-election period, during which human rights organisations reported cases of threats against independent journalists by local authority representatives.4 Many civil servants who refused to campaign on behalf of the United National Movement were also dismissed. Furthermore, the war provoked by Georgia in August resulted in a particularly strong-arm reaction by the Russian Federation, resulting in considerable harm to the Georgian civilian population. This conflict brought to the fore once more the tensions in terms of freedom of expression: because the Georgian authorities were concerned to maintain a positive image during the conflict, human rights defenders, and in particular independent journalists, faced difficulties in providing evidence freely.

Pressure and acts of violence against defenders working for free elections

In 2008, defenders working towards a good environment for the holding of elections were subjected to acts of harassment. For instance, Mr. Sabir Makhetiev, one of the most active election observers of the Public Movement "Multinational Georgia" (PMMG), was subjected to pressure, acts of harassment and intimidation, and was then arrested on April 23, 2008 while he was involved in pre-election monitoring aiming to prepare the parliamentary elections, for having refused to cease his human rights activities.5 He was later obliged to leave Georgia.

On the day of the parliamentary elections, several local election observers were also subjected to insults, acts of intimidation, sometimes even death threats and ill-treatments, especially in rural areas. When these persons filed complaints, their cases were often destroyed. In polling station No. 18 in Kabali, constituency No. 15 in Lagodekhi, Mr. Gela Mtivlishvili, an independent journalist and election observer for the Human Rights Centre (HRIDC), was physically attacked on May 21, 2008, the day of the elections, by Mr. Adalat Sardarov, an election committee official, and by some committee members, as he tried to draw up a complaint reporting election irregularities.6 On the same day, HRIDC had to withdraw its observers during the last hours of polling, because their safety could not be guaranteed.7

In a context of increased State control of the television channels, the main sources of information, and of some radio stations, journalists became the disseminators of independent news, especially of reports of human rights violations. As a result journalists also found themselves in the front line of repression in 2008, when they tried to report on the violations that took place during the elections. On the day of the parliamentary elections, many journalists who were reporting from polling stations were ill-treated and their equipment sometimes damaged. In the Kakhetia district alone, five journalists were beaten, and numerous incidents of this kind were reported in other districts. On the same day, Mr. Ilia Martkopelashvili, an independent journalist, was threatened with arrest by employees of the Ministry of the Interioras he was about to inform mobile election observers about violations that had been noted.

Pressure on and acts of violence against defenders who condemned human rights violations during the war with Russia

During the summer of 2008, journalists and NGO representatives faced great difficulty in reporting violations of human rights and international humanitarian law during the war with the Federation of Russia, not only in the regions occupied by Russian troops but also in neighbouring regions under Georgian control. They encountered material obstacles to reach these areas, as well as physical and moral pressure aiming to prevent them from denouncing violations. As an example, Mr. Saba Tsitsikachvili, an HRIDC Coordinator and journalist who was investigating the situation of refugees in the Gori region in South Ossetia, was subject to threats and pressure exerted by regional Government officials on several occasions in August 2008. Pressure continued to be exerted during the following months. He was particularly encouraged to end his human rights activities or risk reprisals against himself and his family. For his part, Mr. Ucha Nanuashvili, HRIDC Executive Director, was questioned and then threatened with prosecution on August 29, 2008. Nothing had come of these threats as of the end of 2008.

Urgent Interventions issued by The Observatory in 20088

Names of human rights defendersViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Mr. Sabir MakhetievArbitrary detention / Judicial proceedingsUrgent Appeal GEO 001/0508/OBS 082May 16, 2008
Messrs. Saba Tsitsikashvili and Ucha NanuashviliPhysical and verbal attacks / ThreatsUrgent Appeal GEO 002/0908/OBS 145September 4, 2008

1 See Report of the OSCE Election Observation Mission in Georgia, March 4, 2008.

2 The amendments establish in particular the right to use administrative resources to fund election campaigns. These amendments were criticised by the Ombudsman, local observation organisations and the opposition parties for their lack of transparency and the absence of any consultation during the drafting phase.

3 See Report of the OSCE Election Observation Mission in Georgia, September 9, 2008.

4 See Human Rights Centre (HRIDC).

5 Mr. Sabir Makhetiev had reported violations of the Election Code during the January 2008 presidential elections. In the following months, considerable pressure was exerted by the regional administration. Mr. Aflatun Valiev, Representative of the Sadakhlo administrative territory, proposed that he should give up his activities as an observer and work with him, in exchange for the cancellation of an old debt with the Procredit bank. After he refused, the police and bank representatives went to his home on April 18, 2008 to confiscate his property. Five days later, Mr. Makhetiev was arrested for "armed resistance" and remanded in custody.

6 See HRIDC Report on the parliamentary elections, Georgia's parliamentary elections unprecedented brutality and election fraud. Monitoring of elections on May 21, 2008, June 2008.

7 On top of human rights defenders, representatives of various opposition parties were also subjected to threats or were beaten when they reported irregularities.

8 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.


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