A group of 16 local civil society organizations released a joint statement on September 9, calling on the friends of Georgia to pay attention to the “quality of democracy, media and political freedoms, corruption and eventual state capture that we are facing today.”
The CSOs said they were alarmed by the recent developments in Georgia, which “have been hallmarked by the utmost concentration of power in the hands of the ruling political party, thus dangerously undermining the balance of power and the viability of institutions.” Focusing on the political influence of Bidzina Ivanishvili, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, the group noted that the situation is further aggravated by the factor of “informal governance” effectively undertaken by Ivanishvili.
In the joint statement, the civil society organizations touched upon a number of important issues.
“The Georgian leadership has failed to demonstrate the political will to address the outstanding problems in the field of anti-corruption policy in recent years,” the group noted, adding that the ruling party has failed to demonstrate “a strong and consistent political will” for strengthening judicial independence.
The CSOs also focused on “uneven political playing field,” saying that the ruling party’s initiative to hold the next parliamentary elections through a fully proportional system “might be an important improvement of the electoral environment.”
“On top of this, the ruling party announced some legislative changes within the election system reform, which, if enacted, could significantly damage existing standards of freedom of expression and media,” the group said.
Speaking about the problem of Russian propaganda, the CSOs noted that it is largely unchallenged by the state, on the contrary “many instances have proven that pro-Russian, ultra nationalistic and aggressive groups are above the law and are not held accountable for their aggressive actions or calls for aggression.”
The group supposes that media independence remains “a major challenge in Georgia.” “Following the ownership changes of Rustavi 2, the most popular opposition TV station, media pluralism has been under serious threat,” it said.
In the context of the above mentioned, the group finds it alarming to see “increased number of politically motivated criminal investigations and prosecutions.” The CSOs noted about money laundering lawsuit against TBC Bank’s Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze (the owners of the Anaklia Deep Sea port project with strategic US participation), a criminal case against the former Director of the opposition TV station Rustavi 2, a criminal case against the father of the owner of an independent TV station TV Pirveli, “indictments and in some cases imprisonment of the anti-occupation protesters,” as the examples of “politically motivated criminal prosecutions.”
“We believe that these examples concisely and perfectly encapsulate all the major problems in Georgia, uniting the signs of abusing the state institutions for political gain, political retribution, orchestrated social media attacks, pressure on free media, but also raise concerns over the possible Russian influence over the ruling elite,” the CSOs added.
The joint statement was undersigned by Transparency International Georgia; International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Open Society Georgia Foundation, Economic Policy Research Center, Atlantic Council of Georgia, Georgian Democracy Initiative, Media Development Foundation, Society and Banks, Georgia’s Reforms Associates, In Depth Reporting and Economic Analysis Center, Green Alternative, World Experience for Georgia, Georgian Institute of Politics, Institute for Development of Freedom of Information, Sapari and Governance Monitoring Center.