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CSOs Call for Prompt Investigation of Zugdidi Incident

Georgian civil society organizations have denounced the recent incident in the western Georgian town of Zugdidi involving Sandra Roelofs, the mayoral candidate of the United Opposition, a coalition of twelve opposition parties led by the United National Movement.

The CSOs issued statements after Odishi TV, a Zugdidi-based television channel, released a video footage showing several men disrupting the campaign event of Sandra Roelofs, and assaulting – verbally and physically – persons accompanying her, as well as journalists.

16 candidates will run in the mayoral elections in Zugdidi on May 19, with Sandra Roelofs and Giorgi Shengelia of the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party, being the main contenders.

“We consider that the incident is yet another demonstration of politically-motivated aggression, which affects the pre-election environment negatively, and speaks to the risk of instability and intolerance towards persons with different political views,” the Georgian Democracy Initiative said in its statement.

The Transparency International Georgia echoed the points, saying such incidents could threaten free and fair conduct of elections, and might lead to “irreversible damage to the electoral processes and the country’s reputation.”

The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) released a statement as well, saying violence against opponents might “threaten the process of democratic elections and could infringe upon the free will of voters.”

The organizations underlined that the authorities have to investigate the case promptly and thoroughly.

The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics commented on the matter as well, calling on all political stakeholders to refrain from violence against journalists. “If this incident is left without due investigation, it will promote further aggression against other journalists,” reads the statement.

The Interior Ministry launched investigation under article 126 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, involving violence. One suspect, Gela Kvaratskhelia, was arrested later during the day. The man denied having any links with the ruling party. The GD office in Zugdidi confirmed Kvaratskhelia’s account.

Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia commented on the issue as well, telling reporters that all offenses will be investigated thoroughly regardless of suspects’ political affiliations. “We will not allow anyone to discredit elections through disinformation and provocations,” he said.

This is not the first time the parties have accused each other of pre-election violence. Mayoral election in Zugdidi seen some fierce campaigning from both sides.

Also on May 14, Rustavi 2 TV released a covertly-recorded video footage, which allegedly features Gia Danelia, member of the Zugdidi Municipality Council from the ruling party, talking to his collocutor on having been instructed by the Georgian Dream headquarters that they have to win the elections “at any price,” including through vote-buying and kidnapping of voters.

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office launched investigation on charges of vote-buying. Danelia said the recording was doctored.

This post is also available in: Georgian Russian

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