Georgia’s constitution provides for an executive branch that reports to the prime minister, a unicameral parliament, and a separate judiciary. The government is accountable to parliament. The president is the head of state and commander in chief. The president is elected by members of the electoral college, comprised of all members of parliament, members of the high councils of the autonomous republics, and city council representatives. The country held two rounds of parliamentary elections in October and November 2020. In its final report, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe stated the first round of parliamentary elections was competitive and, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected, but “pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state reduced public confidence in some aspects of the process.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe deployed observers for local elections held in two rounds in October. In a preliminary assessment of the first round, the observers stated, “Contestants were able to campaign freely in a competitive environment that was, however, marred by widespread and consistent allegations of intimidation, vote-buying, pressure on candidates and voters, and an unlevel playing field.” In a preliminary assessment of the second round, the observers stated, “Candidates were generally able to campaign freely, but allegations of intimidation and pressure on voters persisted. Sharp imbalances in resources and an undue advantage of incumbency further benefited the ruling party and tilted the playing field.”
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service of Georgia have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of public order. The ministry is the primary law enforcement organization and includes the national police force, the border security force, and the Georgian Coast Guard. The State Security Service is the internal intelligence service responsible for counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and anticorruption efforts. There were indications that at times civilian authorities did not maintain effective control of domestic security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces allegedly committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: serious problems with the independence of the judiciary along with arbitrary or selective detentions, investigations, and prosecutions widely considered to be politically motivated; unlawful interference with privacy; violence and threats of violence against journalists; limited respect for freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and crimes involving violence or threats targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons and activists.
The government took steps to investigate some officials for human rights abuses, but impunity remained a problem. The government’s failure to credibly investigate and prosecute the organizers of violence on July 5-6 resulted in impunity for those abuses. Lack of accountability also continued for the inappropriate police use of force against journalists and protesters during June 2019 demonstrations and the 2017 abduction and rendition from Georgia of Azerbaijani journalist and activist Afgan Mukhtarli.
Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained outside central government control, and de facto authorities were supported by Russian forces. The cessation of hostilities from 2008 remained in effect, but Russian guards restricted the movement of local populations. Significant human rights issues in the regions included credible reports of unlawful detentions; restrictions on movement, especially of ethnic Georgians; restrictions on voting or otherwise participating in the political process; and restrictions on the ability of ethnic Georgians to own property or register businesses. While there was little official information on the human rights and humanitarian situation in South Ossetia, de facto authorities refused to permit most ethnic Georgians driven out by the 2008 conflict to return to their homes in South Ossetia. De facto authorities did not allow most international organizations regular access to South Ossetia to provide humanitarian assistance. Russian “borderization” of the administrative boundary lines increased, further restricting movement and separating residents from their communities and livelihoods. Russian and de facto authorities in both regions committed abuses with impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The State Inspector’s Service investigates whether security force killings were justifiable, and the Prosecutor General’s Office pursues prosecutions of these cases.
In 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) began substantive consideration of the case involving the 2018 death of 18-year-old Temirlan Machalikashvili from gunshot wounds inflicted by security forces during a 2017 counterterrorism raid in the Pankisi Gorge. The Prosecutor General’s Office stated that it terminated its investigation in January 2020 due to the absence of a crime. The Public Defender’s Office responded by urging the Prosecutor General’s Office to reopen the investigation as “several important investigative actions” had not been conducted. Machalikashvili’s father, Malkhaz, alleged the killing was unjustified. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the investigation as lacking integrity.
The trial for the 2008 death of Badri Patarkatsishvili was pending assignment to a third judge as of August. After prosecutors presented their closing argument in 2019, the case was reassigned to a new judge. The new judge subsequently was moved to a different position. The trial followed an investigation begun in 2018 by the Prosecutor General’s Office (then known as the Chief Prosecutor’s Office) after the release of audio tapes dating back to 2007 in which former government officials were allegedly heard discussing methods of killing Patarkatsishvili that would make death appear natural. A former official of the Internal Affairs Ministry’s Constitutional Security Department, Giorgi Merebashvili, was charged with participating in planning the killing.
In 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office charged former justice minister Zurab Adeishvili and the leader of opposition party Victorious Georgia, Irakli Okruashvili, with abuse of power in connection with the 2004 killing of Amiran (Buta) Robakidze. At year’s end the trial was in process at Tbilisi City Court.
During the year there was one report of a possible unlawful killing in occupied Abkhazia. On August 12, Anri Ateiba was found unconscious while in the custody of the de facto Abkhaz ministry of interior department of Gagra District and died a month later. On September 14, claims appeared in social media that Ateiba died as a result of a police beating, while Ateiba’s relatives reportedly claimed that police abuse drove him to suicide. On September 14, the de facto ombudsman of Abkhazia, Asida Shakir, called on the de facto prosecutor general’s office of Abkhazia to investigate Ateiba’s death. Media reported the de facto prosecutor general’s office opened a criminal case on October 13 against two district police leaders for “carelessness leading to severe injury or death.”
In early June South Ossetian de facto authorities released from pretrial detention four police officers suspected of involvement in the August 2020 death of Inal Jabiev. Two other officers remained in custody. Jabiev, who reportedly died in the custody of South Ossetian de facto police, was allegedly tortured to death. The release of the four officers followed the reported June 5 opening of a criminal case by local de facto authorities against the forensic medical expert whose preliminary examination attributed Jabiev’s death to acute heart failure that developed as a result of injury. According to a May report from the Democracy Research Institute, the South Ossetian de facto prosecutor’s office issued an arrest warrant for Inal Jabiev’s brother, Atsamaz Jabiev, in connection with obscene “antistate” remarks made at a rally and in front of the office. Jabiev’s reported death sparked widespread protests in occupied South Ossetia leading to the removal of the de facto minister of internal affairs, Igor Naniev, the resignation of the de facto prime minister, and the dissolution of the de facto government by the de facto president.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
On April 7, Azerbaijani freelance journalist and activist Afghan Mukhtarli returned to the country to provide testimony to the Prosecutor General’s Office in connection with his reported 2017 abduction and forced rendition to Azerbaijan. The Prosecutor General’s Office acknowledged a crime had been committed against him and conferred “victim status” on him. In an April 22 interview with Meydan TV, Mukhtarli asserted that government bodies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service, had cooperated with Azerbaijan’s State Border Service and State Security Service in his abduction. Following Mukhtarli’s March 2020 release from Azerbaijani prison, he moved to Germany where he resided with his family. In the absence of accountability, concerns continued regarding impunity for government officials in connection with the Mukhtarli case.
More than 2,300 individuals remained missing following the 1992-93 war in Abkhazia and the 2008 Russian invasion, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Despite some signs of progress on the investigation into the disappearances of ethnic Ossetians Alan Khachirov, Alan Khugaev, and Soltan Pliev, who disappeared in 2008, the cases remained unresolved.
After suspending sessions in 2020 due to COVID-19, the government resumed meetings of the Interagency Commission on Missing Persons in July.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports government officials employed them. The public defender’s report for 2020, published in April, noted that ineffective investigations continued to be a significant obstacle to fighting mistreatment by government officials. The report also noted isolated incidents of alleged physical violence against prisoners by the staff of closed prison facilities and some incidents of what the report termed “psychological violence,” including verbal abuse of prisoners by prison staff in such facilities for going on a hunger strike, lodging complaints against the staff, or telephoning the Public Defender’s Office. The report termed the incidents of physical and psychological violence by police against persons in custody to be mistreatment. According to the report, the total number of mistreatment allegations was 463. Bodily injuries inflicted either during or after arrest featured in 34.3 percent of the 463 allegations, up from 12.8 percent in 2016.
As of September the Public Defender’s Office had sent letters, but not official referrals, for 194 cases of alleged human rights violations in government institutions to the State Inspector’s Service (SIS) for investigation. Of the cases, 99 concerned alleged violations by Internal Affairs Ministry personnel and prosecutors, 93 involved alleged crimes by penitentiary department staff, one concerned an alleged crime by a Finance Ministry employee, and one involved a death in a state clinic. There were six cases of protracted investigation relating to mistreatment and 12 cases that involved general inhuman conditions in prison.
As of year’s end, the SIS Investigative Department received 3,115 crime reports of alleged mistreatment committed by civil servants. According to the SIS, 55 of the reports were sent by the Public Defender’s Office, compared with 44 in 2020; of those, 30 concerned alleged violations committed by Ministry of Internal Affairs personnel, and 25 involved crimes allegedly committed by Special Penitentiary Service staff. Of the 55 reports, the SIS opened investigations into 17. The SIS transferred 243 reports to the Prosecutor General’s Office and 385 reports to other agencies, as they did not fall within the SIS’ investigative scope. The service determined that 2,125 reports had no signs of a crime. In 365 cases, the SIS Investigative Department opened criminal investigations. Of these 365 criminal investigations, 49 concerned crimes allegedly committed by the staff of the Special Penitentiary Service. Of the above-mentioned 49 cases, the Prosecutor General’s Office terminated the investigation of three criminal cases due to the absence of a criminal act under the law.
The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) reported it had consulted victims on 13 allegations of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. GYLA filed a legal case involving one allegation with the SIS, prepared applications for the SIS in four cases, and participated in one case proceeding where the investigation was suspended. Additionally, GYLA was involved with cases connected to the July 5-6 violence (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly) and sent applications in the name of nine applicants to the Prosecutor General’s Office to start an investigation into police actions. GYLA consulted victims on six such allegations in 2020.
On October 1, the government announced that former president Mikheil Saakashvili had returned to the country and been detained on various charges and convictions in absentia. The convictions in absentia included abuse of power for ordering the physical assault on a former member of parliament (see the 2018 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Georgia). On November 11, the Public Defender’s Office asked the SIS to initiate an investigation into alleged violations of former president Saakashvili’s rights by the Ministry of Justice and Special Penitentiary Service (SPS) by forcibly transferring him from Prison N12 in Rustavi to Prison Hospital N18 in Gldani, after his prolonged hunger strike. The Public Defender’s Office stated, “On November 11, 2021, the Ministry of Justice violated the prisoner’s right to honor, dignity, and privacy by releasing video footage showing the placement of Mikheil Saakashvili in Medical Establishment N18 against his will, seminaked, and in a degrading condition.” According to the SIS, the video recordings requested for the investigation had not been provided to SIS by the SPS but had been disclosed to the public. The Public Defender’s Office further alleged that “SPS restricted the 3rd President of Georgia (Saakashvili) from participating in his own trial, which violated the right to a fair trial enshrined in the Constitution of Georgia, since Saakashvili had not been allowed to appear before court on three occasions since his arrest and imprisonment.” On November 19, former president Saakashvili was transferred to the Ministry of Defense Gori Military Hospital for treatment of a critical health condition. Following his recovery, Saakashvili was returned to SPS Penitentiary Establishment N12 on December 30, where he remained.
On December 30, Georgian Dream members of parliament voted to abolish the SIS as of March 2022. In its place, two separate agencies to investigate abuse of power by law enforcement officials and to protect personal data were scheduled to be established. In contrast to the previous mandate to investigate all law enforcement equally, the law does not authorize the new investigative agency to investigate certain crimes committed by prosecutors, such as murder and bodily harm. As part of the reorganization, the State Inspector was scheduled to be removed from office in March 2022, despite the fact that she had three years remaining in her constitutionally mandated term. Ruling party members of parliament expedited the vote by introducing the legislation and holding all three readings on it in less than a week without consultation with key stakeholders and in the face of strong domestic and international criticism. In the days leading up to parliament’s actions, the SIS had been investigating alleged inhuman treatment of former president Saakashvili during his forced November transfer from the Rustavi prison to the Gldani penitentiary clinic. The SIS had recently stated that the Justice Ministry and the Special Penitentiary Service violated the data protection law by releasing several controversial videos of Saakashvili’s transfer.
Trials against three police officers stemming from the June 2019 antigovernment demonstrations continued during the year. The officers were charged with exceeding authority by using violence or weapons, which is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment and deprivation of the right to hold public office for up to three years (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly). In September all three defendants were released from criminal responsibility under the Law on Amnesty passed on September 7.
During the year the trial of detective investigator Konstantine Kochishvili for allegedly physically assaulting a minor in 2019 by spitting in his face, beating him, and breaking his arm continued. Authorities arrested Kochishvili in 2019 and charged him with degrading and inhuman treatment. In February 2020 the Rustavi City Court released the defendant on bail. As of November the trial continued at Rustavi City Court. The next hearing was postponed, however, for an indefinite period.
Several former officials remained on trial in absentia at Tbilisi City Court in various cases of torture and other crimes allegedly committed under the former government. The officials included the former deputy chief of the general staff, Giorgi Kalandadze; the former deputy culture minister, Giorgi Udesiani; and the former director of the Gldani No. 8 Prison, Aleksandre Mukhadze. (Udesiani and Mukhadze’s cases had a new judge appointed because the presiding judge was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2019; the new judge ruled the case would be reheard based on a motion by the defense.) Kalandadze’s case remained pending with a hearing scheduled for September. Mukhadze was convicted in absentia on another charge related to Sergo Tetradze in 2014 and received a nine-year prison sentence.
On April 7, de facto authorities in Russian-occupied Abkhazia detained Russian tourist Artyom Russkikh on suspicion of involvement in drug sales. De facto police repeatedly moved Russkikh, beat him, threatened to kill him, including by simulating executions of hanging with a garden hose and drowning in a mountain stream, and brandished a pistol. The beatings resulted in three broken ribs, multiple bruises, and internal injuries, including to his kidneys. Russkikh was ultimately released and deported to Russia. Following media attention, on September 15 Abkhaz de facto prosecutors initiated a criminal case for exceeding authority against the three de facto police officers implicated in the alleged criminal activity. The three were reportedly suspended from duty during the investigation.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
While overall prison and detention facility conditions were adequate, conditions in some older facilities lacked sufficient ventilation, natural light, minimum living space, and adequate health care. Prison conditions in Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia were reported to be chronically substandard.
Physical Conditions: The public defender’s 2020 report, released in April, noted overcrowding remained a problem in some prison facilities, especially Prisons Nos. 2, 8, 15, and 17. Overcrowding created additional health-care problems during the pandemic. In January parliament adopted an amnesty law to address overcrowding as a one-time, temporary, and special measure. Approximately 1,000 prisoners were expected to be amnestied under the law during the year.
As in previous years, the problem of long-term isolation of prisoners and their placement in de-escalation rooms and solitary confinement cells was highlighted in multiple “prison visit” reports as well as in the annual report of the public defender’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), the Public Defender’s Office’s 2020 report, and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture’s (CPT) 2018 report. Inmates with mental health issues and juveniles were also confined on extended terms in de-escalation rooms; in some cases inmates claimed to have been handcuffed. According to the Public Defender’s Office and the CPT, “de-escalation rooms” were used as punishment, and their use was considered mistreatment of inmates.
The Public Defender’s Office reported an increase in inmate-on-inmate violence, which in most cases was underreported and never investigated. The Public Defender’s Office also reported increased inmate violence against staff members.
During the year the NPM published a special report on the informal management of prisons by “influential inmates” (“watchers”), a problem that affected semiopen facilities in particular. The Public Defender’s Office raised the problem at public hearings. The Special Penitentiary Service subsequently continued restricting the Public Defender’s staff’s access to prisons. According to the public defender and NGOs, the Ministry of Justice continued to refuse to acknowledge the “watchers” and the danger they presented to inmates. The Public Defender’s Office reported that such informal control by influential inmates “often leads to inter-prisoner violence and bullying” and that “watchers” controlled prisoners’ access to clothing, food, medicine, and packages sent from their families. Some prisoners victimized by “watchers” requested transfer to high-risk prisons or self-isolation to escape abuse, increasing risks of mental health problems among the prison population.
The Public Defender’s Office annual report for 2020 stated that cell toilets for detainees generally were only partially screened, and criminal suspects had limited access to a shower and outdoor exercise as well as no family contacts or telephone calls. Lack of fresh air and activities were problems at closed institutions. Inmates in “closed” prisons (Prisons Nos. 2 and 8), high-risk institutions (Prison Nos. 3 and 6), and Prisons Nos. 7 and 9 were confined to their cells for 23 hours a day with limited or no access to rehabilitation and resocialization services. The problem was especially acute for inmates with mental health problems. Pretrial detainees and convicts, including juveniles, were reportedly mixed at Prisons Nos. 2 and 8, despite a ban on such practices in the penal code.
While the Ministry of Justice maintained a special medical unit for prisoners with disabilities, the Public Defender’s Office reported that prisons and temporary detention centers did not take into account the needs of such persons, including for medical services. According to the public defender, doctors were unable to explain the importance and purpose of documenting injuries.
Mental health care remained inadequate within the penitentiary system. Initial screening of prisoners’ mental health using a specialized instrument occurred only at Prisons Nos. 2 and 8 under a pilot project supported by the Council of Europe; multiple screenings did not happen at any institution. The system lacked qualified social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and ward-based staff. Timely referral of inmates for adequate medical care was lacking. Medical referrals were performed only in emergencies and for scheduled dialysis, chemotherapy, or repeated consultations or medical manipulations due to the postoperative period.
Administration: The Public Defender’s Office noted there was only one ombudsperson authorized to respond to complaints by prisoners and reported that obstacles such as a lack of information on their rights, fear of intimidation, distrust of the outcome, and lack of confidentiality could deter prisoners from filing complaints with judicial authorities. According to the NPM’s 2020 annual report, the Public Defender’s Office received 57 complaints from inmates at semiopen prisons that held half of the country’s prison population. The Public Defender’s Office attributed this low number of complaints to intimidation via the informal “watcher” system. Instead of writing a complaint, inmates appealed to “influential prisoners” to solve their problems.
According to the SIS as of August, 34 of its 245 criminal investigations concerned crimes allegedly committed by the Special Penitentiary Service staff, compared with 49 of 270 criminal investigations in 2020. According to the SIS, as of November 1, the service had opened investigations in 10 of 34 cases submitted by the Public Defender’s Office. Nine of the 10 cases were pending investigation, while the Prosecutor General’s Office terminated the investigation of one criminal case due to the absence of a criminal act as provided by the criminal code. The Prosecutor General’s Office terminated the investigation in five of the 49 criminal investigations initiated by the SIS in 2020 due to the absence of a criminal act as provided by the criminal code, while in two criminal cases, it initiated criminal prosecution against two persons. Both persons received conditional two-year sentences in prison, based on a plea agreement.
Ensuring confidentiality of medical records as well as the confidentiality of complaints remained problematic. Staffing levels of between one and four security officers to more than 100 inmates were inadequate at semiopen facilities and created an insecure environment for both inmates and administration. According to the Public Defender’s Office, records on registering and distributing detainees in temporary detention centers were often incomplete or erroneous.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in 2020 and continuing during the year, some penitentiary reform efforts were suspended. Prisoners’ rights to long visits and family visits were suspended. Prisoners were instead given opportunities for short family visits in addition to free telephone calls.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by international prison monitoring organizations including the CPT and some local and international human rights groups. Due to persistent problems in the penitentiary system, the CPT conducted a random visit and held high-level meetings in May. The NPM had access to penitentiaries, conducted planned and unscheduled visits, and was allowed to take photographs during monitoring visits. NPM members, however, did not have unimpeded access to video recordings of developments in penitentiaries, to inmate medical files, nor to some disciplinary proceedings for inmates.
Some inmates intentionally interfered with the NPM’s monitoring mandate, according to reports from the Public Defender’s Office. In a January 20 statement, the Public Defender’s Office claimed that in response to its 2020 report on the situation in penitentiary establishments, there were “public attacks on the public defender and illegal actions by the minister of justice and the Penitentiary Service, as a result of which, it has become not only difficult but also dangerous for the representatives of the Public Defender’s Office to carry out visits and monitoring at the penitentiary establishments.” In December 2020 an inmate threatened the representatives of the Public Defender’s Office at Gldani Prison No. 8 and demanded they end the visit; the inmate was roaming freely even though this was a closed prison. On January 13, a group of inmates harassed Public Defender’s Office representatives and demanded they stop visits because “everything is fine in prison.”
International prison monitors had access to detention facilities under the Special Penitentiary Service in Tbilisi-administered territory. The monitors visited three detainees in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and facilitated links between their families through the exchange of Red Cross messages, delivery of parcels from families to detained persons, and a family visit for one detainee.
Improvements: During the year parliament adopted a law on amnesty, which began a prison population reduction process and could apply to 1,000 prisoners, depending on a judicial review of cases.
The Ministry of Justice continued to work through the new Vocational Education and Training Center for Inmates, which focused on broadening programs, creating “out of cell” activities for inmates, helping inmates develop skills to find jobs in prisons and outside, and working with the private sector to introduce prison industries into the penitentiary system. The number of social workers and psychologists increased and working conditions for prison staff improved through increased salaries and provision of new uniforms, health insurance, free meals, and access to new vehicles.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; government respect for these rights was uneven.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of assembly. Human rights organizations expressed concern, however, regarding provisions in the law, including the requirement that political parties and other organizations give five days’ notice to local authorities to assemble in a public area, thereby precluding spontaneous demonstrations. The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs reported that police sometimes restricted, ineffectively managed, or failed to protect freedom of assembly.
To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, on June 23, parliament extended for the third time amendments to the law giving the government power to restrict movement and gatherings and to implement other measures without a state of emergency to prevent the spread of COVID-19 until January 1, 2022.
While a number of protests took place during the year, there were reports that police at times restricted or failed to protect individuals’ right to freedom of assembly. For example, on July 5, police failed to take appropriate action to protect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly for individuals who had planned to participate in a Pride event. Approximately 3,000 far-right demonstrators violently rioted through Tbilisi, destroying an opposition protest site at parliament, attacking NGO offices, and assaulting more than 50 journalists and others following statements from Prime Minister Garibashvili that called the planned Tbilisi Pride event, March for Dignity, inappropriate and described it as a plot by “Saakashvili and the radical opposition” aimed at sparking tension and destabilization in the country. The prime minister alleged that 95 percent of the population opposed the event as a justification for blaming Tbilisi Pride for the violence.
The Georgian Democracy Initiative reported that far-right counterdemonstrators were organized by Guram Palavandishvili, a member of the pro-Russian and nationalist group Georgian Idea and the head of the Society for the Protection of Children’s Rights; Levan Vasadze, a businessman and the founder of the Unity, Essence, Hope political party; and Konstantin Morgoshia’s online outlet Alt-Info. Protesters included a number of Georgian Orthodox priests, some of whom posted videos on social media that appeared to call for and endorse the violence.
Reports and videos showed that police failed to arrest far-right actors as they assaulted police, journalists, and others seen to be associated with the pride march or Western values. The group attempted to storm parliament but was unable to do so and tore down the EU flag flying in front of parliament. One Polish tourist was stabbed, allegedly for appearing to be associated with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community. LGBTQI+ activists described feeling hunted as the locations where they sought refuge were discovered by far-right groups. Activists expressed concern that they were found due to government assistance. Throughout the day the Ministry of Internal Affairs failed to deploy riot control measures. Weeks in advance, ministry officials pressured organizers to cancel the March for Dignity, stating they could not protect the right to assembly because they expected between 20,000 and 50,000 counterdemonstrators.
The violence by far-right groups, comments by the government, and the inaction of security forces was widely condemned by NGOs, the Public Defender’s Office (the ombudsperson), and the international community.
On July 6, a spontaneous protest against the July 5 violence occurred outside of parliament. Far-right groups mobilized approximately 500 counterprotesters, seemingly led by Guram Palavandishvili, who threw rocks, bottles, and fireworks at peaceful protesters and police. Once again police did not deploy sufficient riot control equipment and personnel. As the peaceful protesters were dispersing, far-right groups broke past police and chased peaceful protesters and again took down the EU flag and burned it.
A total of 31 individuals were charged in six separate criminal indictments as of year’s end. The majority of those indicted, 27, were charged with participation in acts of group violence, prevention of journalistic duties, and unlawful entry and threats of violence. Three individuals were charged with raiding the Tbilisi Pride office, including participating in the use of violence and threats of violence as well as for violating private and public property as a group, while one person was charged with battering a civilian. The cases were in various stages of trial with two defendants pleading not guilty and one defendant pleading partially guilty, claiming he hit someone because he was provoked. All three defendants were released from pretrial detention. Authorities did not, however, make any formal arrests of individuals responsible for organizing the violence.
There were reports police continued to employ the administrative offenses code to restrict freedom of assembly. On April 13, police arrested six persons under the code during a protest against the planned Namakhvani Power Plant. This followed an April 12 statement by 13 Georgian civil society organizations that expressed solidarity with protesters against the project and stated “guaranteed rights to assembly and manifestation (were) gravely violated by the state.” Transparency International and the Open Society Foundation issued similar statements critical of government efforts to restrict the freedom of assembly of the Namakhvani protestors.
During the year the Tbilisi City Court continued to try three cases connected with the June 2019 events. The cases involved charges against one Internal Affairs Ministry Special Tasks Department officer for intentionally targeting nonviolent protesters and two criminal police officers for abuse of power; one officer was accused of beating a protester while arresting him, the other of beating a protester under arrest. The three defendants were charged with exceeding authority by using violence or weapons, a crime punishable by five to eight years’ imprisonment and deprivation of the right to hold public office for up to three years. All three defendants were released under the amnesty law passed on September 7.
Freedom of Association
There were reports that some government representatives and supporters of the ruling party pressured political opposition figures and supporters (see sections 1.d. and 1.e.).
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In 2018 a new constitution went into effect that eliminated direct election of the president and established a fully proportional electoral system for the 2024 parliamentary elections, among other provisions.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The country held parliamentary elections in October 2020 and second-round runoff elections in 17 of 30 electoral districts in November 2020. The OSCE deployed a limited number of observers for the October elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its March 5 final report, the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) assessed the October 2020 elections were competitive and, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected, but it stated “pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state” reduced public confidence in some aspects of the process. ODIHR particularly highlighted concerns regarding ruling-party dominance in election commissions. Other problems included widespread reports of intimidation of party supporters and public-sector employees. ODIHR also reported continuing shortcomings in the complaints and appeals process, concluding that “the systemic rejection of the majority of complaints on formalistic grounds, significantly limited the opportunity to seek effective legal remedy.”
Domestic civil society organizations deployed approximately 3,000 election observers across the country. They alleged misuse of administrative resources by the ruling party, voter intimidation, vote buying, violations of ballot secrecy, obstruction of journalists and domestic election observers, and inaccurate and altered vote tabulation at the precinct and district level. Domestic organizations submitted hundreds of electoral complaints and were highly critical of the Central Election Commission’s management of the elections. In November 2020, 26 domestic NGOs issued a statement describing the conduct of the October 31 elections as the worst held under Georgian Dream. In addition, opposition parties alleged the number of missing ballots in certain precincts indicated there was widespread “carousel voting.” Leading domestic nonpartisan election monitors reported most postelection complaints were rejected by the election administration and courts, undermining public confidence in the electoral process and the outcome of the election.
As a result of the alleged violations leading up to and on election day, opposition parties boycotted the runoff elections on November 21 and refused to take their seats in parliament. In December 2020 the new parliament was sworn in, but only the ruling Georgian Dream members of parliament took their seats (Georgian Dream won 90 of 150 seats). The OSCE did not observe the November 2020 runoff elections, and most domestic observer groups significantly scaled back their observation efforts or did not observe because of the boycott. Nevertheless, domestic election monitoring organizations raised concerns regarding electoral violations on election day.
The country held local government elections on October 2, 2021, and second-round runoff elections in five cities, including Tbilisi and 15 municipalities, and for 42 majoritarian seats in 24 local councils on October 30. The OSCE deployed an international election observation mission for both election rounds.
In its preliminary statement on the first-round of local elections, the OSCE mission stated, “Contestants were able to campaign freely in a competitive environment that was, however, marred by widespread and consistent allegations of intimidation, vote-buying, pressure on candidates and voters, and an unlevel playing field.” The OSCE preliminary statement also expressed concern regarding “cases of intimidation and violence against journalists” (see section 2.a.) and noted that “significant imbalance in resources, insufficient oversight of campaign finances and an undue advantage of incumbency further benefited the ruling party…The pervasive misuse of citizen observers as party representatives, at times interfering with the process, and groups of individuals potentially influencing voters outside some polling stations were of concern.”
Domestic civil society organizations deployed more than 1,000 election observers across the country for the first-round of local elections. The organizations identified violations of the secrecy of the ballot, tracking of voters by unauthorized persons, voting with improper voter identification documents, persons attempting to vote multiple times, and voters who were permitted to cast a ballot without checking for indelible ink. In its report on the October 2 elections, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) noted that “the environment outside of some polling stations was problematic, where cases of voter mobilization, tracking/noting of voters and alleged vote buying were observed.” In a report issued prior to election day, Transparency International/Georgia highlighted significant campaign finance imbalances, noting that the ruling Georgian Dream party accounted for 70 percent of all electoral subjects’ revenues and expenditures during the pre-election period.
The OSCE preliminary report on the October 30 second-round elections found that “candidates were generally able to campaign freely, but allegations of intimidation and pressure on voters persisted. Sharp imbalances in resources, and an undue advantage of incumbency further benefited the ruling party and tilted the playing field. The transparency and accountability of campaign finance were reduced by insufficient oversight.” The law continued to lack “clear and objective criteria” for granting and conducting recounts and voting annulments. This lack of clarity provided district election commissions and courts “broad discretionary powers” in responding to such requests. At the same time, concerns persisted regarding the impartiality of lower-level election commissions. The tone toward the ruling party by the country’s public broadcaster became more positive as election day approached (see section 2.a.). ISFED’s report on the October 30 second-round elections suggested that “the instances of gatherings of persons outside of polling stations, alleged vote buying, voter mobilization and tracking of voters, negatively reflected on the expression of the free will of voters; in municipalities where the difference was minimal, this could have had an influence on the election results.” Likewise, Transparency International/Georgia found that because “the elections in many precincts were concluded with a rather narrow margin, the violations and problematic tendencies, encountered both in the pre-election period and on election day, might have had a serious impact on the ability of voters to exercise their free choice, as well as on the final results of the elections. Therefore, the public could have legitimate questions with regards to the overall fairness of the elections.”
Political Parties and Political Participation: Credible reports of political violence continued. Intimidation, pressure against voters and candidates, and abuse of administrative resources, further blurring the lines between the government and ruling party, persisted throughout the first and second rounds of the October municipal elections. Many interlocutors continued to report intimidation and pressure on voters, including threats of dismissals and of promises of employment and payments. This was particularly aimed at those reliant on the state for wages or social support, allegedly using the extensive system of ruling-party coordinators and involving law enforcement bodies. On September 21, opposition mayoral candidate Giorgi Tatuashvili was stabbed in the face at a political rally in Dmanisi. The assailants were reportedly the son and father, respectively, of two Georgian Dream candidates for city council. On September 25, the empty vehicle of a For Georgia party mayoral candidate in Tsageri was hit by gunshots the day after a public meeting between the candidate and the For Georgia party chairman, former prime minister Giorgi Gakharia.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides for a gender quota for candidates for seats in parliament and on city councils. The law aims to increase the number of women in the electoral process by 2024 and requires that every third candidate on a party list be a woman by 2028. In June parliament voted to soften the gender quota for the October municipal elections, which reduced the number of female candidates required for inclusion on proportional candidate lists. In its preliminary statement following its observation of the October 2 local government elections, the OSCE stated that “the underrepresentation of women in the campaign demonstrates a need for greater commitment to ensure adequate representation in politics.” Although awareness of inclusion issues was growing, the acceptance of women and minority communities including youth, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQI+ community and ethnic minority groups remained incomplete within political parties. The ability of the LGBTQI+ community to exercise an active voice during the elections was suppressed by the July 5 attacks (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly). Political parties rarely engaged with ethnic minorities except during election cycles, and few political parties made their party programs available online in minority languages.
De facto authorities in Abkhazia stripped ethnic Georgians of their Abkhaz “citizenship” in 2014, preventing them from participating in de facto elections. Ethnic Georgians willing to apply for de facto Abkhaz passports generally did not receive them in time to participate in de facto elections due to extensive delays. Ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia were also required to accept a South Ossetian “passport” and “citizenship” to participate in political life. International actors, including the OSCE Group of Friends of Georgia, did not recognize the legitimacy of the de facto elections.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for officials convicted of corruption. While the government implemented the law effectively against low-level corruption, NGOs continued to cite weak checks and balances and a lack of independence of law enforcement agencies among the factors contributing to allegations of high-level corruption. NGOs assessed there were no effective mechanisms for preventing corruption in state-owned enterprises and independent regulatory bodies. NGOs continued to call for an independent anticorruption agency outside the authority of the State Security Service, alleging its officials were abusing its functions.
On September 8, Transparency International/Georgia stated the country had “impressively low levels of petty corruption combined with near total impunity for high-level corruption.” The country also lacked an independent anticorruption agency to combat high-level corruption.
Several months after resigning, in a May 31 interview former prime minister Giorgi Gakharia noted that the country’s “biggest challenge is weak institutions. When institutions are weak, corruption and nepotism represent a problem.”
The Anticorruption Coordination Council included government officials, legal professionals, business representatives, civil society, and international organizations. In March amendments to the Law on Conflict of Interest in Public Service moved responsibility for assisting the work of the Anticorruption Council from the Justice Ministry to the Administration of the Government, headed by the prime minister but separate from the Prime Minister’s Office. Formation of the relevant secretariat was underway at year’s end. The last Anti-Corruption Strategy and Action Plan was developed by the council in 2019. The council has not met since it was moved under the government’s administration.
Transparency International/Georgia, in its October 2020 report Corruption and Anti-Corruption Policy in Georgia: 2016-2020, noted the government annually approves national action plans to combat corruption. It reported some shortcomings, however, including ineffective investigations of cases of alleged high-level corruption. Although the law restricts gifts to public officials to a maximum of 5 percent of their annual salary, a loophole allowing unlimited gifts to public officials from their family members continued to be a source of concern for anticorruption watchdogs. In January, Transparency International/Georgia noted that the country’s anticorruption reforms did not progress.
As of March, Transparency International/Georgia listed 50 uninvestigated high-profile cases of corruption involving high-ranking public officials or persons associated with the ruling party.
Corruption: As of year’s end, 87 sitting or former public servants had been charged with corruption. This included 14 cases of fraud committed using official position, 10 cases of misappropriation or embezzlement using official position, eight cases of nonviolent misuse of official powers for personal gain, eight cases of nonviolent exceeding of official powers, one case of illegal participation in entrepreneurial activities while taking advantage of official position, 30 cases of bribery, and 16 cases of creating a fraudulent official document for personal gain.
Investigations remained open in two high-profile corruption cases involving two former ministers. Some observers considered the investigations politically motivated. The investigations lacked transparency, and authorities did not update the public on their progress.
As of December the Anticorruption Agency of the State Security Service detained 21 public servants at the local and central levels for taking bribes, including a member of Ambrolauri City Council from the Alliance of Patriots, Givi Kutsikidze, who, according to the State Security Service, demanded from a citizen a $140,000 bribe and took $30,000 as an advance payment for promised assistance in support of a construction permit in Tbilisi. The mayor of Borjomi, Levan Lipartia, and the chair of the City Council, Giorgi Gogichaishvili, were detained in February 2020 for taking bribes. In July, Lipartia was released from prison; Gogichaishvili continued to serve his term.
The trial of TBC Bank cofounders Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, which began in 2019, continued. The case stemmed from bank transactions from 2008. Charges against the two men came just weeks after Khazaradze announced his intention to establish a civil movement. Khazaradze established the movement, called Lelo, which later became the Lelo political party. Authorities brought charges against Avtandil Tsereteli in 2019 for providing support to Khazaradze and Japaridze in the alleged money-laundering scheme. In 2020 a group of 20 NGOs, including Transparency International/Georgia, the Open Society Fund Georgia, and ISFED, said they considered the charges against all three men to be politically motivated, given the amount of time that had transpired. In April 2020 the public defender reported there was no evidence in the case files for the 2019 charge of money laundering in 2008.