The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia launched investigation into online harassment claims, involving the organizers of the anti-immigration “March of the Georgians” rally, who have allegedly threatened to sexually assault Tatia Dolidze, Georgia’s youth delegate to the United Nations in 2016-2017.
The Facebook conversation, initiated by Konstantine Morgoshia (candidate of the Alliance of Patriots in Mtskheta single-mandate constituency in the 2016 parliamentary elections) on July 16 and joined by a number of organizers of the “March of the Georgians” rally, contained threats of sexual violence against Tatia Dolidze for her public criticism of the rally on July 16.
Morgoshia’s post is no longer available on Facebook, but its screenshots have been widely circulated in the social network. Beka Vardosanidze, one of the participants of the Facebook post, denied the statements, saying that they were written using fake Facebook accounts.
The Ministry said in a statement on July 17 that the probe was launched under article 151 of the Criminal Code, dealing with threats of death or bodily injury and punishable by fine or community service from 120 to 180 hours or corrective labor for up to a year or with imprisonment of up to a year.
Political Party, CSO Reactions
Elene Khoshtaria, mayoral candidate of the Movement for Liberty – European Georgia, convened a special press briefing on July 17, saying that the case was a pressure of “fascist, homophobic” groups against “an independent-minded individual.”
“We need to understand that freedom of expression is very important regardless of how unacceptable this might be, but yesterday’s statements against Tatia Dolidze contained direct threats of sexual violence and this is a criminal offense,” Khoshtaria said.
She also accused the ruling party of promoting “these groups in the past,” which it used for “political violence.”
The Women’s Movement in Georgia issued a statement early on the same day, criticizing the government’s handling of the matter. “It is alarming that the government has been consistently silent over the propaganda of hatred from both the rally itself and its organizers [in the aftermath] … we believe that through its silence and inaction the state will promote [further] hatred,” the Movement said.
The Women’s Movement called on the media outlets to refrain from inviting “the March of the Georgians” organizers, on the government to voice its position concerning the rally and on the authors to publicly apologize for their statements.
Public Defender Ucha Nanushvili commented on the matter as well, expressing concern over “the use of clearly misogynic and hate speech, which further complicates the difficult state of gender equality in the country.” Nanuashvili called on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to “ensure timely and efficient conduct of the ongoing investigation into the alleged threat.”
Kakha Kaladze, the ruling party candidate for Tbilisi Mayoral Elections, called for an end to “politically-motivated aggressive confrontation and insult of people” in his Facebook post on July 17. “It is hardly imaginable that someone says he protects the values that are dear for our country – hospitality, tolerance, respect to women and courage – and in reality do complete opposite.”
Kaladze also urged “all public figures and politically active citizens to act, speak and compete with your opponents within morale, humanity and political culture.”
The Coalition for Equality, which unites eight Georgian human rights organizations, released a statement as well, saying that the case amounted not only to “threats” (article 151 of the Criminal Code), but also to “threat of torture” (article 1442 of the Criminal Code), a crime punishable by a fine or restriction of liberty for up to two years by Georgian legislation.
The organizations also called on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to conduct “timely, unbiased and gender-sensitive” investigation and on the government to distance itself from the “xenophobic, racist” statements of “the March of the Georgians” organizers.