Public Defender’s Statement on Human Rights Violations during Pre-Election Period
The Public Defender of Georgia actively monitors the human rights situation during the pre-election period within the framework of her constitutional mandate. In accordance with Article 21 of the Organic Law of Georgia on the Public Defender of Georgia, we are presenting the problematic issues identified by the Public Defender as of September 29.
Unfortunately, there have again been cases of alleged discriminatory dismissals after the Public Defender’s statement of September 1. There have also been reports of alleged pressure on opposition party candidates, violence, political pressure on kindergarten/public school staff and alleged illegal processing of personal data and bribery of voters. The tendency to create a hostile environment for the media and local observers has been observed as well.
Although the majority of victims confirmed violations in a conversation with the Public Defender’s representatives, the Public Defender uses the term "alleged", as a number of cases contain elements of crime that have not been established yet, which is the prerogative of the investigating bodies and the court.
- Cases of alleged pressure/intimidation of candidates
This pre-election period is particularly characterized by alleged pressure on opposition candidates. The Public Defender received numerous reports of the refusal of passive suffrage.
According to the information available to the Public Defender's Office of Georgia, 59 opposition candidates were allegedly pressured and intimidated to make them withdraw their candidacies. As a result, they, with a few exceptions, filed applications to withdraw their candidacies. According to our data, 52 of them were representatives of the For Georgia party, 6 were representatives of the United National Movement and 1 was a representative of the Third Force - Strategy Builder.
According to the parties, alleged threats against their candidates were mostly coming from the representatives of the State Security Service, election headquarters of the ruling team and individuals with criminal authority. According to the parties, candidates were threatened with physical abuse, destruction of property and obstruction of entrepreneurial activities (in some cases, state agencies started inspection of the candidates’ companies), actions against the safety of family members and relatives, their dismissal, abolition of social assistance and undesirable outcomes of the ongoing criminal cases. Some were promised to be employed or assisted in the treatment of a family member in case of withdrawal of their candidacies.
The fact that almost no candidate wants to talk about the above incidents either in public or in a conversation with the Public Defender’s representatives suggests that former candidates expect the threats/pressure to be carried out against them.
The Public Defender has already applied to the law enforcement agencies, including the State Inspector's Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, regarding 20 alleged cases of pressure/threats against members of opposition parties.
Other cases are also noteworthy, such as damaging the office of a political union, stealing an election banner, exerting pressure on office owners, obstructing the use of advertisement billboards. We have communicatation with the relevant agencies about these cases as well.
- Alleged discrimination of employees on political grounds
According to the information available to the Office, 69 people have been dismissed or harassed at work allegedly for discriminatory, politically motivated views. In a conversation with the Public Defender's Office, most of these people explained the above by having friendly relations or being relatives of members of former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia's party. Some named the posting/sharing of posts and comments in support of the party leader on social networks as a reason.
Most of the cases of harassment and dismissal were reported in Samegrelo, Adjara and Shida Kartli. Employees were dismissed from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (6 cases), municipal services, legal entities under private law in various municipalities, non-commercial legal entities and other public institutions. One person was dismissed from a private institution.
Citizens point out that they were requested by their superiors, directly or through others, to file an application of resignation. Some of them agreed to do so. Those who refused to resign for personal reasons were fired for other reasons.
The Public Defender has already sent materials of 44 cases of alleged pressure and illegal dismissal on political grounds to the law enforcement agencies for investigation and response. According to the reply of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, on September 13, 2021, an investigation was launched into the violation of labour legislation, an offence under Article 169 of the Criminal Code of Georgia. 5 persons were questioned, who confirmed dismissal in their testimonies. In addition, 40 persons were called as witnesses. Investigative/procedural activities continue. No one has been identified as a victim or a defendant in the above criminal case. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia also notified us that an investigation was launched into 5 cases of alleged violation of the labour rights of the employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs under Article 169 of the Criminal Code of Georgia. No specific person has been identified as a victim or a defendant at this stage.
In addition to the above, the Office is examining 14 cases of alleged discrimination on political grounds, which concern various types of violations of the labour rights.
- Violent incidents
Particularly serious events took place in Dmanisi (Kvemo Kartli), where three supporters of the United National Movement political party were injured. Two of them were stabbed. The son of the majoritarian candidate of the ruling party was arrested in connection with this incident in the village of Gantiadi.
The Public Defender requested information from the law enforcement agencies about responses to 4 more physical confrontations.
- Alleged bribery of voters
As during previous elections, reports are again spread about alleged bribery of voters. The Public Defender has applied to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia regarding 5 cases. According to their reply, one case is being investigated and 4 cases are being examined.
- The media and human rights defenders
The recent threatening and hostile environment towards journalists and other representatives of the media is worrying. During 2021, in addition to the attacks on journalists on July 5, the Public Defender’s Office has been informed of 24 alleged offences committed against representatives of the media.
The Public Defender emphasizes that the high rate of similar incidents is directly related to the inappropriate response by the investigating agencies to some of the cases, which exacerbates the syndrome of impunity in the country. It is also noteworthy that the Prosecutor's Office of Georgia has not yet launched criminal prosecution against organizers of the violence committed against journalists on July 5, 2021, despite the Public Defender's assessment that the publicly spread evidence reaches the standard of probable cause against at least two people. In this regard, the Public Defender addressed the Prosecutor General with substantiated proposals.
At the same time, it has become a common practice for political officials to cynically treat journalists and make statements aimed at discrediting them, especially those representing the critical media. Such cases incite violence against members of the media.
Unfortunately, high-ranking political officials made several statements aimed at discrediting NGOs working on issues that are crucial to democratic development. We have repeatedly criticized such facts and once again explain that according to international standards, officials are obliged to refrain from being engaged in a negative campaign against human rights defenders and their activities, to publicly acknowledge the need for their protection and to emphasize the importance of human rights defenders' actions even when they are critical towards the authorities.
- Rights of the employees of kindergartens and public schools
The media reports relating to the illegal processing of personal data of the employees of kindergartens and public schools by the State Security Service are noteworthy. It is not allowed to illegally collect personal data about the employees of educational institutions, which is most likely used to harass them on political grounds. This presumption is supported by previous practices. In particular, the dismissal of kindergarten and school principals for political reasons during the election period is a common practice, according to the cases examined by the Public Defender's Office in the past. In addition, in one of the cases, the Public Defender established discrimination after identifying that the refusal to reappoint the applicant as a public school principal was conditioned by the political activities of her family members.
During the pre-election period, the Public Defender became aware of four cases, when the employment contracts of acting public school principals were not renewed allegedly for political reasons. The Office informed the investigative agencies about two of the cases.
Thus, the Public Defender calls on:
The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia and the Ministry of Internal Affairs:
- To timely examine all alleged incidents of pressure, threats, persecution, physical violence, bribery and other cases containing elements of crime indicated in public sources and letters sent by the Public Defender; To take all effective measures to identify those responsible in each case and to take legal measures against them in a timely manner.
- To ensure that the public and the Public Defender's Office are informed of the progress of the investigation into all criminal activities.
Heads of the central and local self-government bodies and other public institutions:
- Not to allow dismissal of employees or discrimination against them on the grounds of political views.
- To pay special attention to the protection of persons employed in the general education system and kindergartens from political pressure, discrimination and harassment.
- To refrain from engaging in a campaign aimed at discrediting journalists and representatives of observer organizations; to be guided by internationally recognized democratic standards in relation to human rights defenders.
 Public sources and information provided by the parties.
 Public Defender’s letter No. 04-11/8857, 14/09/2021.
 For example: in Lagodekhi, Telavi, Karajala, Giorgeti, Kabali, Khashuri, Ozurgeti, Senaki, Tsalenjikha, Khulo, Keda, Adigeni, Akhalkalaki, Ninotsminda.
 Letters Nos. 04-2/8451 of 31 August 2021 and 04-2/8982 of 20 September 2021 to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs; Letter No. 04-2/9063 of September 21, 2021 to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
 Violation of the labour legislation.
 Letter MIA 8 21 02572356 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia dated September 29, 2021.
 Letter No. 13/56073 of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia dated September 15, 2021.
 Public Defender’s letter No. 04-11/8858, 14/09/2021; Letter No. 13/57997 23/09/2021 of the Prosecutor General’s Office.
 Statement by the Public Defender of Georgia, <https://bit.ly/3CyXHuk> [23.09.2021]
 2019 Parliamentary Report of the Public Defender of Georgia, p. 251, available at: < https://bit.ly/3CJscy1 > [23.09.2021]; See also the statement by the Public Defender of Georgia of October 24, 2018 on the international obligations of the Government to support the activities of human rights defenders, available at: < https://bit.ly/3kBAySa > [24.09.2021].
 Information is available on the website:< https://bit.ly/3hZdUkX > [23.09.2021].
 See the 2018 Parliamentary Report of the Public Defender of Georgia, pp. 230-231, available at: < https://bit.ly/2XWLkto > [23.09.2021].