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Watchdog Suspects School Inspections Used for Voter Intimidation

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The Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), a Tbilisi-based rights watchdog, says preliminary examination of public school inspections in 2018 raises doubts that the inspection mechanism was used for voter intimidation.

In a statement released on March 11, the organization said a total of 288 school inspection requests were filed to the Ministry of Education in 2018. The Ministry carried out the inspections only in seven cases, six of which were conducted in November 2018, between the first and the second rounds of Presidential elections.

According to GYLA, three out of the six inspections were approved on the same day the corresponding requests were submitted, including the one concerning the Public School N6 in Zugdidi, the late principal of which – Ia Kerzaia – was reportedly pressured to join the campaign of ruling party-endorsed candidate Salome Zurabishvili.

According to Kerzaia’s family, the Ministry of Education dispatched two inspectors on November 9, after the school principal refused to cooperate with the authorities. The inspectors released their conclusion two weeks later, recommending the school’s governing board to dismiss the principal. Kerzaia was hospitalized with a stroke on December 2, and died couple of days later. The family claims her health condition worsened as a result of pressure.

GYLA believes there was no need to inspect Kerzaia’s school, as the complaint – submitted by a person identified as Lavrenti Kiria – contained only general concerns about the school, rather than concrete facts. It also said speedy processing of the application by the Ministry of Education raises doubts that this was “an intentional, pre-planned process” to exert pressure on the school principal on political grounds.

GYLA called on the Prosecutor’s Office to look into the alleged electoral use of public school inspections, as part of its ongoing investigation into the Kerzaia case, which was launched on February 11 on charges of abuse of power.

The first round of presidential election was held on October 28, 2018. No candidate garnered more than 50% of the votes. The two top contenders – the ruling party-backed Salome Zurabishvili and Grigol Vashadze of the United Opposition – faced in the runoff polls on November 28, 2018. Zurabishvili claimed victory with 59.52% against Vashadze’s 40.48%. Vashadze did not accept the election results, citing mass election fraud.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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