In a joint statement on February 2, forty six non-governmental organizations condemned ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s remarks that he is looking into activities of several civil society activists as “threatening”.
In an interview with Tbilisi-based Imedi TV last week, Ivanishvili said that his organization, 2030, will prepare an “interesting research” on head of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) Nino Lomjaria; head of the Transparency International Georgia Eka Gigauri, and former head of Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) Kakha Kozhoridze, who is now President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s human rights adviser. Ivanishvili also said that he has “many questions” towards these persons.
“We express concern over pressure exerted on non-governmental organizations. Attacks have intensified recently especially against those non-governmental organizations, which serve protection of democratic values, support of idea of freedom and equality and creation of European type of system of governance,” reads the statement by dozens of NGOs, among them Open Society Georgia Foundation; Human Rights Centre; Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center; Article 42 of the Constitution; Civil Development Agency; Institute for Development of Freedom of Information.
The statement also recalls remarks by PM Irakli Garibashvili who slammed in May, 2014 NGOs united in This Affects You, a group campaigning against government’s unfettered access to telecom operators’ networks, saying that they “damage” Georgia’s international reputation and “undermine” country’s security.
The statement says that with his “threatening” remarks Ivanishvili has actually preannounced plans to release “compromising materials against civil society leaders.”
“We believe that Bidzina Ivanishvili’s statement is a position of not an individual citizen, but of an informal ruler of the state,” reads the statement. “Groundless rhetoric of representatives of the ruling political group represents turning away from authorities declared values. These remarks against civil society organizations leave an impression of a deliberate campaign. Such attitude harms not only democratic values and ideas to which civil society member non-governmental organizations serve, but also strengthens groups, which oppose these values. Such a trend is extremely alarming and hampers democratic development of the state.”
“We call on the authorities and politicians to refrain from pressuring non-governmental organizations and actions directed against them,” it says.
Commenting on this statement, PM Irakli Garibashvili said on February 2 that it is “completely incomprehensible” for him why “opinion or criticism of one non-governmental organization”, referring to Ivanishvili, “about other non-governmental organizations is a source of surprise.”
“We have secured full transparency and full democracy in Georgia,” PM Garibashvili told journalists. “Freedom of expression of any individual, every organization will be protected.”
“Whether I like or not what Rustavi 2 TV or any other television station, or non-governmental organization say, we will always do everything in order to have freedom of expression protected in Georgia,” he added.
Commenting on Ivanishvili’s remarks, U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland, said on January 29: “I know that Mr. Ivanishvili always says what he thinks and it is generating interesting discussion. Of course the role of dialogue and free exchange of ideas is a critical part of democracy, as are strong media sector, strong NGO sector and I think Mr. Ivanishvili’s voice is obviously very important part of that too. I will say that we at the U.S. embassy have had and continue to have excellent relationships with GYLA, with Transparency International and with ISFED.”