Dismissals and resignations of local government officials allegedly for affiliation with former ruling UNM party, increased societal violence against LGBTs, interference with religious minorities’ right to assemble and government’s insufficient response to address these issues were among the most important problems reported in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of State’s annual human rights country report.
Among other problems the report, released on February 27 and covering developments of 2013, notes “police abuse of detainees and substandard, although improving, prison conditions.”
But citing local human rights and legal advocacy groups, the report says that there were fewer reported cases of police abuse than in 2012. However it also notes that number of reported incidences of police abuse were higher than the number of cases investigated by prosecutor’s office.
“NGOs and the public defender maintained that… failure to conduct systematic investigations and pursue convictions of all alleged abusers contributed to a culture of impunity,” reads the report. “While reports of torture in prison decreased substantially, during the year NGOs and the public defender documented several cases outside the penitentiary system of police officers mistreating detainees, beating them, denying them access to sanitation, or withholding permission to contact a lawyer.”
It also notes about allegations of “politically motivated harassment” and says that UNM members were reporting about “arbitrary harassment, job loss, and arrests”, including of senior officials from the previous government, due to their political affiliation or activities.
But the report also says that “the government took steps to promote accountability” and adds that as of December, 2013 the authorities “charged 50 former senior Saakashvili administration officials – including the UNM’s general secretary, a former minister of internal affairs, defense minister, and prime minister – with crimes including obstruction of justice, misappropriation of government funds and money laundering, blackmail, privacy intrusion, and abuse of power.”
Like previous reports, the new one also says that “external and internal influence on the judiciary remained a problem.” But unlike previous report, the recent one says that there were “some positive steps” and notes that oversight by the judiciary became stricter.
“Following the 2012 elections, prosecutors from the new government generally represented a different political party than the judges, who were appointed during the Saakashvili administration. With this change oversight of the executive branch by the judiciary became stricter, most particularly in cases involving former Saakashvili administration officials, and judges typically applied higher standards to requests from prosecutors to institute wiretaps, search residences, and detain defendants before trial in these cases. The courts also scrutinized prosecutions involving former government officials more closely than ordinary cases,” reads the report.
Citing the Public Defender and other court observers, the report says that “inadequate substantiation” of court decisions by judges is a “continuing problem”. But it also says, citing court observers, that the percentage of rulings upholding unsubstantiated motions for pretrial detentions significantly decreased.
On high-profile trials in which ex-PM Vano Merabishvili and ex-defense minister Bacho Akhalaia were defendants the report says: “Trial observers noted both the prosecution and defense were able to present their positions. Most judges showed marked improvement in their ability to maintain order in their courts and in demanding higher professionalism from court participants, but this was not always the case for judges overseeing trials of former Saakashvili administration officials, especially that of former minister Bacho Akhalaia. For example, in some instances the court did not stop Akhalaia from berating witnesses and prosecutors and interrupting the judge and prosecutors. Legal experts, however, noted concerns about the slow process of the trials involving Merabishvili.”
Two separate trials in which Merabishvili was a defendant were completed this month – one on February 17 and another on February 27.
On pretrial detention of Merabishvili, who was arrested in May, 2013, the report reads: “Court monitors noted the arrest and pretrial detention appeared to meet international standards of due process.”
The report says that the rights groups alleged about “politically motivated arbitrary” arrests, in particular when 23 employees of the Tbilisi city municipality were briefly detained almost simultaneously in June, 2013.
On dismissals or resignations in local self-governing bodies, the report reads: “Following the 2012 parliamentary elections, citizens staged protests in cities and regions in which the UNM opposition still maintained control of local governments, calling for the resignations of local UNM opposition officials. These demonstrations allegedly prompted resignations and or defections to other parties as many previously UNM-affiliated politicians declared themselves independent or allied with the Georgian Dream Coalition.”
“Some UNM officials stated they voluntarily changed parties in response to the electoral" results, the report says, but it also adds, citing rights groups that some of the resignations were result of “pressure from the Georgian Dream Coalition, either at the regional or national level.”
On media the report says that “independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but most outlets showed some form of political bias.”
“Throughout the year NGOs, independent analysts, and journalists accused high-ranking government officials and opposition politicians of influencing editorial and programming decisions through their personal connections with news directors and media executives and by directing advertising using their personal connections with business owners,” reads the report.
It says that ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s decision to close down his television station, asserting his desire to avoid the perception of using the station for partisan purposes, “was largely seen as a positive step.” The report also notes about Georgian Public Broadcaster’s decision to cancel two talk shows hosted by journalists considered supportive of UNM. It says that the opposition and several NGOs alleged the change was politically motivated.
The report says that “the police did not protect the right to peaceful assembly” on May 17, 2013 when an attempted anti-homophobia rally was violently disrupted by thousands of counter-demonstrators.
The report says that there were several instances of discrimination against the Muslim community last year. “The public defender and civil society expressed their concern about intolerance and violence directed against Muslims,” the report reads.
“Georgian-language skills continued to be the main impediment to integration for the country’s ethnic minorities; however, political, civic, economic, and cultural obstacles to integration also remained,” according to the report.