Open letter to the Georgian president Mr Edouard Chevardnadze, President of the Republic of Georgia

Press release
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Dear Mr Chevardnaze,

The FIDH is deeply concerned with the recent violations of human rights in Georgia.

On 30th October 2001, a police raid was conducted in the offices of the main independent television channel Rustavi 2 in Tbilissi. This raid was carried out on the basis of an alleged fiscal fraud of the channel. According to the information given by the Human Rights Information and Documentation Center (the former ISHRG, Independent Society "Human Rights in Georgia"), a fiscal inspection made the previous week had concluded that the channel respected its financial obligations. This raid caused a major political crisis, which resulted from a strong mobilisation of civil society to defend the freedom of the press.

This raid was not the first act of intimidation against Rustavi 2. On 26th July 2001, its main presenter, Géorgiy Sanaya, was found dead from a bullet in his head. Even though an investigation was officially launched, neither those responsible for this crime nor its perpetrators were identified. These acts aim at neutralizing this independent channel, critical towards the government and firmly committed to denouncing the endemic corruption, including within the Ministry of the Interior.

Besides, on 12th October, the director of the press agency "Caucas-Press", Paata Kurashvili, was attacked and seriously injured by unidentified men who stole him money and his mobile phone.

These events occurred in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which affirms in its article 19 the right "to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas (...)", and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Georgia, which also guarantees freedom of expression in its article 19.

Furthermore, in the framework of their joint programme of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the FIDH and the OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), have been informed of hindrances to freedom of association. According to the Human Rights Information and Documentation Center, on 4th July 2001, the "Liberty Institute" organisation’s office was robbed. The thieves did not touch the new computers but took two monitors and three hard disks, which contained investigation data on corruption. The police opened an investigation only on the following 21st August.

The Human Rights Information and Documentation Center (the former ISHRG) has also been the target of several acts of harassment. On 6th July 2001, one of its representatives, Zviad Mamasakhlisi, and his friend Tamaz Varsimashvili, were attacked by five policemen, who severely beat them, first in the street, and then in the police offices. Last year, on 8th July 2000, the ISHRG’s head of public relations and George Chanadri, reporter for the independent newspaper Dilis Gazeti, were arbitrarily detained. On 11th November, the association’s offices in Gori were invaded and sacked by a group of seven to eight people armed with iron bars. They confiscated their equipment (computers, printers...) along with all their documents.

These acts are in contradiction with the main human rights instruments which guarantee the freedom of action for human rights defenders and particularly, the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms adopted on 9th December 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly. Its article 8.2 stipulates that everyone has the right to " submit to governmental bodies (...) criticism and proposals for improving their functioning and to draw attention to any aspect of their work that may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms ".

The FIDH is all the more concerned about these recent acts of harassment since they occur in the context of renewed tension between Georgia and Abkhazia. The absence of any progress towards a political and pacific settling of conflicts in Abkhazia (1992-1994) and South Ossetia (1990-1993) creates conditions for regional instability and renewal of hostilities, whose first victims are civilian populations.

During the conflict opposing Georgia to Abkhazia, nearly 250 000 Georgian people were forced to flee this territorial entity. Yet, as of today, no solution has begun to take shape on the statute of Abkhazia, the return of refugees, and the restitution of goods or the compensation for properties lost between 1990 and 1994. This situation has been emphasized by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, which in its last resolution in September 2001 (Resolution 1257) " regrets that no substantial progress has been realised ". The FIDH calls on all the parties in presence to do their utmost to allow a lasting political solution to be found in the shortest time.

Moreover, according to the information received, serious violations continue to be perpetrated by the police. Acts of torture in police offices and in preventive detention centres keep being reported. The police officers accountable for these violations benefit from widespread impunity.

Furthermore, freedom of religion has continually been attacked for more than two years. These past months, religious extremists have carried out recurrent and violent attacks against non-Orthodox religious minority groups, in particular the Jehovah Witnesses and the Baptists. For example, on 28th September 2001, the Jehovah Witnesses, gathered for their annual convention, were attacked by a hundred of assailants. They were all severely beaten, including women and children. Property was sacked and books burnt, following the orders of the revoked Orthodox priest, Mr Vasili Mkalavishvili known for holding violent speeches full of hatred against religious minorities. These attacks seem to have benefited from the police’s tacit complicity, as they refused to help the victims. Yet the Jehovah Witnesses had notified their convention’s venue to the police which then committed to protecting them. On 30th September, nearly 124 people, members of the extremist ultra-orthodox organisation " Jvari ", attacked a Jehovah Witnesses meeting in Rustavi.

These various elements have also been underlined by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, which recently made public an alarming report on the human rights situation. It considered in its last resolution that " Georgia was far from honouring its obligations and commitments as member of the Council of Europe ". The Assembly also insisted on corruption, which " remains one of the most serious problems faced by the Georgian society " (Committee on the honouring of obligations and commitments by member states of the Council of Europe, Report 9191, 13th September 2001).

The FIDH considers that the information received establishes serious human rights violations and contradicts the principles and provisions inherent in the Rule of law.

The FIDH calls on the Georgian authorities to guarantee the free exercise of the fundamental freedoms. The FIDH also asks that Géorgiy Sanaya’s murderers be identified and prosecuted as soon as possible.

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