Delivering a speech at the autumn session of the Parliament held on 30 October 2012, Giorgi Kandelaki, member of the United National Movement (UNM), discussed the Presidential elections of 27 October. According to the MP: “The reports of different international monitoring organisations note that the elections day went well.All these reports, among others the reports of the NDI, the OSCE, as well as yesterday’s statement of the President of the European Commission, Barroso, point out that the problem was not the elections day in itself but the period preceding it. The problem is the endless interrogation of thousands and tens of thousands of United National Movement members and also, naturally, the pre-trial detention of political figures which is not consistent with the European standard in any way. According to various officials of the European Union and the European Parliament, this [Association] Agreement cannot be signed unless the selective enforcement of the law ceases in Georgia and all the abovementioned problems are eliminated. This has been explicitly written into the resolution of the European Parliament.”In pursuance of checking the accuracy of Giorgi Kandelaki’s statement FactCheck
looked into the reports and statements mentioned by the MP.The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) published an interim report (19 September-11 October 2013) on the elections observation mission in which Chapter 8 – “Campaign Environment” (p. 5) indeed states that the campaign atmosphere was marked by a tense cohabitation. The report also mentions the detentions of various leading officials of the United National Movement, among others that of the Secretary General. The document further emphasises the political changes at the local self-government level witnessed in the aftermath of the Parliamentary elections. In particular, the report notes that the campaign environment has been negatively impacted by allegations of political pressure on UNM representatives at local self-governmental institutions.The report also presents the statements made by the United National Movement with regard to the pressure and intimidation experienced at the party’s meetings starting from the very day of the official opening of the election campaign. According to the report,
the pre-election environment was further aggravated by arrests and pre-trial detention of several UNM officials, including its Secretary General, who was responsible for running their presidential campaign and a potential presidential candidate. The chapter,“Campaign Environment,” of the same report (p. 7) names various cases of the harassment of party activists by rival supporters and instances of violence. The report further reads that during the UNM primaries in July, at least 17 people were arrested for throwing objects at UNM leaders and attempting to disrupt the events. They were charged with petty hooliganism and all but one was fined with GEL 100 each. From August to October, some 15 other cases involving filming of activists at rallies, altercations during the posting of election materials and physical assaults were brought to the attention of the Inter-Agency Commission for Free and Fair Elections (IAC) and the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission (EOM) by the United National Movement, Democratic Movement – United Georgia and the Labour Party.The Statement of the National Democratic Institute Pre-election Delegation to Georgia also reports that the Delegation noted serious concerns about the acts of violence targeted at UNM’s presidential candidate, public officials and minority communities (Tbilisi, Georgia, 6 September 2013). The document further notes that while perpetrators have been arrested and placed in custody, the minor financial penalties imposed would not appear sufficient to deter such behaviour in the future (p. 4). The National Democratic Institute takes a positive note of the statement of the Minister of Justice made on 4 September in which she reaffirmed last March’s Inter-Agency Task Force recommendation to suspend, during the pre-election period, interrogations of local officials and party activists for alleged misconduct. The statement also mentions, however, that the investigation and arrest in late August of the gamgebeli
of Adigeni was not consistent with the spirit of the IATF recommendation and even an impression of the pressure being exercised in the campaign environment could have a negative impact upon party activists and electors.In his meeting with Mikheil Saakashvili on 29 October 2013, the President of the European Commission José Manuel Durão Barroso also remarked
on the inadmissibility of selective law enforcement: “We expect Georgia to honour its obligations such as ensuring that the courts operate free of political influence. We are completely against any form of selective justice.”Barroso responded to the question of a French media representative inquiring if selective law enforcement was taking place under the current government: “The European Union always respects the rule of law in any investigation. This is a must and we declare publicly that when I met the Prime Minister here, I told him clearly what the opposition meant.We have a very close relationship with the Government of Georgia, Catherine Ashton, Štefan Füle and I personally. I will be more precise and tell you that there is a serious polarisation between the opposition and the government during the transition of democracy in Georgia. We understand that it is a fundamental interest of Georgia to resolve political issues by political methods, for example, by elections. Now you have a new Prime Minister and President, political problems should be solved only by political means and not by legal means, this is a fundamental difference.”In his statement Giorgi Kandelaki also referred to the resolution of the European Parliament on the European Neighbourhood Policy: Towards a Strengthening of the Partnership,
which was adopted on 23 October 2013. In Article 37 of the resolution the European Parliament takes note of the legal prosecution of the leading political figures and brings the example of Vano Merabishvili following which the Parliament calls for the full respect of European standards and norms.While verifying the accuracy of the MP’s statement it is of relevance to take into account the general tendency manifested in various leading European politicians’ evaluations of the existing situation in Georgia. For instance, on 22 July 2013, at the EU Foreign Affairs Council Meeting held in Brussels, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt explicitly affirmed the existence of selective justice in Georgia: “We are concerned with selective justice there and we will express those concerns to the [Georgian Foreign] Minister this afternoon.” Another statement of Carl Bildt made in the interview of 6 November to Radio Liberty is also worthy of mentioning as the Swedish Foreign Minister warns the present government against the professed criminal prosecution of President Saakashvili. In particular, Bildt responds
to the question of whether or not he foresees Saakashvili becoming a "new Tymoshenko:" “I think that it might even be worse in that particular case and we have said it very clearly to Mr Ivanishvili that if he goes forward with those things, then Georgian foreign policy will be reduced to one issue for the next few years to come, to the detriment of the development of the country.”
Lastly, we can recall the meeting of the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy with President Saakashvili on 7 November at which Rompuy stressed the importance of the opposition in Georgia and emphasised the role of the correct functioning of democratic institutions and the respect of the rule of law.
Conclusion In his statement Giorgi Kandelaki notes that the ongoing interrogations of tens of thousands of United National Movement members and the arrests of political figures were mentioned in various international monitoring mission reportsand in the statement of the European Commission President. Neither the reports of the NDI and the OSCE/ODIHR nor the statement of the European Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso mention the numbers indicated by the MP and so subsequently FactCheck has no means of evaluating the accuracy of the given figure. Nevertheless, the abovementioned reports indeed acknowledge the acts of political pressure and intimidation against the United National Movement members at the local self-government level from the very day of the official opening of the election campaign. The reports also discuss the noted concerns about various cases of harassment of party activists by rival supporters and instances of violence. The same report highlights the arrests and pre-trial detention of several UNM officials, including its Secretary General, as well as the interrogation and arrest of the gamgebeli
of Adigeni. The level of importance and attention given to the above-listed matters by the international organisations is clearly visible in the following statement of the NDI report: “Even an impression of the pressure being exercised in the campaign environment could have a negative impact upon party activists and electors.”
As for the statement of the European Commission President, he did not specifically put emphasis upon the tense campaign environment but still underlined the EU’s respect for the rule of law and noted that the political issues should be settled by political and not legal means. This sort of statement issued by a political figure of such rank should certainly be considered as a political message, pointing the Government to the existing problems in this field. Moreover, Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt explicitly asserts the existence of selective justice in Georgia and expresses his concerns with regard to the matter.
The facts of the arrests of political leaders are reflected in the European Parliament’s resolution of 23 October 2013 in which the Parliament calls for the implementation of legal procedures in line with European standards and norms. While in this case, as well as in the previous ones, no direct link is observed between selective justice and the signing of the Association Agreement, the fact of the resolution’s mentioning the legal prosecution of leading oppositional political figures, specifically that of Vano Merabishvili, represents an important political message. The resolution also notes that the signing of the Association Agreement depends upon how tangible Georgia’s progress will be with regard to the rule of law, democracy and the establishment of European standards in the country.Accordingly, we conclude that Giorgi Kandelaki’s statement is MOSTLY TRUE.