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ISFED Calls for ‘Timely, Comprehensive’ Investigation into Kerzaia Affair

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The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, a Tbilisi-based election watchdog, says the circumstances surrounding the November 2018 inspection in the Public School N6 in the town of Zugdidi raises doubts that the inspection mechanism was used for political purposes ahead of the Presidential elections.

In its report released on March 25, the organization said the Ministry of Education carried out a total of seven school inspections in 2018, six of which were conducted in November, between the first and the second rounds of Presidential elections, 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 to Zugdidi, 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.

ISFED said political intimidation and pressure on public sector employees, including teachers, was wide-spread in the run-up to Presidential elections. According to the watchdog, some public servants were coerced to support candidate Zurabishvili, while others were tasked to compile lists of her potential voters, or asked to convince the opposition supporters to switch sides.

The watchdog said the problem was “systemic” in Zugdidi, where opposition support was relatively higher than in the rest of the country.

Zugdidi Public School N6

ISFED said although the inspection identified “certain flaws” in the school management and infrastructure, the overall inspection process “contained signs of discrimination on political grounds.”

The watchdog pointed out that the Ministry of Education authorized the inspection on November 8, just hours after it received a written complaint against Kerzaia. ISFED said this raises suspicion that the authorities “could have had an information about the forthcoming application.”

ISFED also said there is “a reasonable doubt” that the person who submitted the complaint “does not exist.” The organization said the decision not to disclose the author’s identity, strengthens these doubts.

The watchdog added that some assessments in the conclusion seemed to be exaggerated. It also said the chosen measure – dismissal recommendation – was disproportionate and served to punish the school principal, rather than to address the identified shortcomings.

“Speedy processing of the complaint letter, the manner in which the inspection was carried out and the conclusion raise doubts that the inspection was selective and discriminatory on political grounds,” reads the report.

ISFED called on the Prosecutor’s Office to carry out timely and comprehensive investigation into the case and identify persons behind the alleged abuse of power. It also urged the Ministry of Education to clarify the standards and methodology of school inspections and refrain from using the mechanism in pre-election period.

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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