[The Georgian Dream] will support the formation of Georgian civil society based upon a diverse unity of Georgian citizens. With this aim, it will protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and promote their integration (Election Programme, page 2).
Challenges in terms of the protection of the rights of religious minorities started immediately after the Georgian Dream came to power. In 2012-2013, there were numerous cases of confrontations upon a religious basis between local Orthodox Christian parishioners and Muslims. The cases of confrontations in the villages of Nigvziani, Tsintskaro, Samtatskaro, Mokhe and Tchela were especially serious. The principal reason behind the incidents was that any public display of Islam and its symbols was unacceptable for the local Orthodox Christians (see FactCheck’s article). In his annual reports, the Public Defender of Georgia has frequently emphasised the insufficient reaction from the state for countering these violations. Non-governmental organisations have at numerous times called upon the state to take more active measures. Of note is that the investigation of some of the violations of the law committed during confrontations is still in progress. According to the Public Defender, showing “tolerance” toward crimes, a lack of punishment and ineffective measures from law enforcement bodies make the problems even worse. Thomas Hammerberg also mentioned the same problems in his 2013 report.
The last (2015) report of the Public Defender is very critical in his assessment of the effectiveness of the state in terms of the protection of religious minority rights. The biggest problem is fully exercising the right of religious freedom; namely, obtaining construction permits for religious buildings, property ownership of disputed religious buildings, following religious neutrality and the implementation of the requirements of the Law on General Education. In 2015, the Public Defender was informed about approximately 40 cases of violations of religious freedom and the equality principle (page 482).
The report of the Public Defender states: “In most cases, the state fails to give religious minorities an opportunity to fully use their religious freedom and cannot provide them with a tolerant social environment. This is because the state cannot elaborate a goal-oriented strategy to fight the problems of hate-motivated crimes and discrimination, fulfil positive obligations toward ensuring religious freedom, react effectively against a specific target and show loyalty toward the principles of secularism” (page 483).
According to the Public Defender, the rate of the involvement and the participation of ethnic minorities in decision-making processes is low. The study of the native language and the official language during school education together with a low level of information awareness in densely populated regions still remain as problems (page 14).
In 2015, the Government of Georgia approved a State Strategy on Civic Equality Integration together with an Action Plan for 2010-2015 based on best practice and experience. Additionally, effective reaction mechanisms for today’s needs and challenges were also established. The most important priority was the affordability of quality education. The last one features in the Georgian Dream 2016 Election Programme as well.
Certain steps were taken to ensure an equal electoral environment for ethnic minority voters. All types of election documentation are also available in the Armenian and Azerbaijani languages. For the Parliamentary elections on 8 October 2016, 344 polling stations have been set up for regions with significant ethnic minority populations.FactCheck
asked the representative of the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre, Tamta Mikeladze, to assess the situation in regard to religious and ethnic minority rights for the last four years. Ms Mikeladze, who is personally involved in the study of religious minority affairs, stated: “We can say that since 2012, under the new government, the situation in regard to religious freedom became somewhat worse as reflected in the problems and religious conflicts occurring against Muslim communities, on the one hand, and in the discrimination of other religions, on the other hand.”
Tamta Mikeladze also highlighted: “Unfortunately, plenty of important, high-profile incidents and cases of religious intolerance were left without a timely and effective reaction from the state. The state failed to find some of the culprits responsible for these incidents and cases and prevent the violation of the law concerning conflicts against the Muslim community. Moreover, in some cases the state itself employed repressive means against Muslims and detained them illegally. At the present moment, the majority of the conflicts remain and the Muslim community still has its rights infringed.”
Even though the state has specific strategies and action plans to facilitate the integration of religious and ethnic minorities intothe country’s public life and ensure a better protection of their rights, they were not actually implemented under the Georgian Dream government.
Media freedom will be protected. (Election Programme, page 1)
Several international organisations, including Freedom House, Reporters without Borders and IREX, conduct research about media freedom in different countries.
According to Freedom House’s 2016 report, the situation in regard to media freedom improved by 0.25 points in Georgia in 2014. Since 2014 until today, the situation has not changed in this regard.According to the Reporters without Borders’ 2016 report, Georgia’s media freedom index worsened by 0.26 points as compared to the previous year. The country, however, moved five places ahead in the ranking from 69th to 64th.
This happened because media freedom indices became even worse than Georgia’s.
According to IREX’s reports, Georgia’s Media Sustainability Index has been worsening slightly since 2014. However, the country still remains in the category of countries labelled ‘close to sustainable.’Of note is that the reports of all of the aforementioned international organisations speak about problems and signs of political pressure in Georgia’s media environment (the closure of talk shows at Imedi TV and the Public Broadcaster are given as an example together with events related to the Rustavi 2 TV company). Freedom House’s report states: “The investigation and court dispute about the leading opposition channel, Rustavi 2, demonstrates the political pressure exerted by the ruling political coalition” (see the links: link 1, link 2 – page 2, link 3
– page 169).
Of separate note is the process which unfolded at TV Maestro which resulted in changes in the company’s management. On 3 June 2016, several broadcasts were shut down and 32 employees had their job contracts terminated, among others.
In order to prevent the ruling majority’s abuse of power,the obligation to establish human rights and petition committees will be taken constitutionally. The chairs and the majority of the members of these committees will be from the opposition (Election Programme, page 7).
Despite the promise, this change was not enacted in the Constitution of Georgia or in any other legal act. Additionally, this promise is no longer in the Georgian Dream’s 2016 Election Programme.FactCheck
tried to get information from one of the leaders of the Georgian Dream and the Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Parliament of Georgia, Eka Beselia, on why this promise was unfulfilled and the reasons why the party abandoned the promise. Our numerous attempts notwithstanding, Eka Beselia has not responded to us.
Of note is that over the last four years, the majority of the MPs in the 19 MPs comprising the Human Rights Committee of the Parliament of Georgia was from the Georgian Dream coalition (nine MPs were from the Georgian Dream political party, one was from the Free Democrats party and one was from the Republican party) whilst the Committee was chaired by Eka Beselia herself.FactCheck interviewed one of the leaders of the Republican party, Vakhtang Khmaladze, in regard to the aforementioned promise. Mr Khmaladze clarified that the lack of consensus was the reason why this promise was not fulfilled: “This initiative was presented to the Constitutional Commission although there was no quorum in our working group at the Commission with the exception of the first session.” FactCheck
has already written about the zero results of the Commission’s work and its failure to enact a respective constitutional change.Of note is that 81 MPs of the Parliament of Georgia registered a draft law in regard to changes to the Constitution on 3 September 2015, sidestepping the Constitutional Commission. The draft law envisaged a change in the election system after the 2016 Parliamentary elections (see FactCheck
The Republican Party is the only one of the parties comprising the former Georgian Dream coalition which still openly supports this initiative and still takes its obligation before voters to create a committee of human rights and petition by changing the Constitution. Vakhtang Khmaladze stated: “The government itself is often the violator of human rights. The majority of Parliamentary Committees, which are established to exert control, should not be made up of members of the Parliamentary Majority because they are the ones in the executive government. Therefore, we want the chair to be a representative of minority parties who will ensure better control.”
In order to prevent the Parliamentary Majority from impeding the creation of an Investigative Commission and impartial investigation (this danger is permanent because these individuals are members of the ruling team), the Parliament of Georgia should be obliged to create an Investigative Commission if it is demanded by at least one-fifth of all MPs. (Election Programme, page 7)
Under the new government, the Parliamentary Opposition motioned multiple times for the establishment of Temporary Investigative Commissions for several much-publicised issues. The majority of the Parliamentary Minority’s pleas were not approved by the Parliament of Georgia (there was only one case when a Temporary Investigative Commission was established) and proposals to create Temporary Investigative Commissions for the investigation of specific cases were rejected.
According to the information of the Parliament of Georgia, the Parliament of Georgia reviewed 14 requests in regard to the establishment of Temporary Investigative Commissions in 2013-2016. Of these, the Parliament of Georgia rejected the following eight requests:
- Death of Shalva Tavtukhashvili under unclear circumstances
- Study of incidents of the circulation of illegally obtained photographs and videos disclosing details of the private lives of individuals and the illegal telephone tapping of politicians and other public figures
- Death of Barbare Rapaliantsi under unclear circumstances
- Study of the activities of respective officials of the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia and the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia carried out in regard to the Sakdrisi-Kachaghiani mine (including the revocation of the cultural heritage status of Sakdrisi-Kachaghiani and the RMG company’s conduct of mining work on the territory of the mine). This proposal was pushed forward three times.
- Study of facts concerning the much-publicised murders of Yuri Vazagashvili, Barbare Rapaliantsi, ShalvaTatukhashvili, Erasti Kitsmarishvili and Archil Maisuradze
- Establishment of a Temporary Investigative Commission to study the country’s systemic corruption
In the same period, the Parliament of Georgia voted for the establishment of a Temporary Investigative Commission to look into the activities of the Georgian National Communications Commission. No decision, however, was made concerning the following five cases:
- Investigation of the identification of the origins and producers of a video recording containing jihadi threats
- Public statement of the former Mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, in regard to concrete facts of pressure on the court
- Public statement of the General Secretary of the United National Movement, Vano Merabishvili, about the facts which took place on 14 December 2013
- Investigation of the assault against Nugzar Tsiklauri, MP, committed on 31 March 2014
- Investigation of the facts concerning the murders of Barbare Rapaliantsi, Erasti Kitsmarishvili and Shalva Tatukhashvili