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Georgia in HRW’s Annual Human Rights Report

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On January 14, the Human Rights Watch, an international human rights monitoring organization, issued its annual World Report, a country-by-country analysis on the state of human rights in 95 countries and territories worldwide, covering developments of 2019.

The report section on Georgia raises several concerns, including the police dispersal of June 20 protests by using “excessive force”, lax labor regulations “resulting in labor practices that undermine workers’ safety,” threats to media pluralism, “unjustifiably harsh” drug laws, and discrimination against LGBT people.

The report highlights that “political tensions and sustained protests over electoral reforms marked 2019 in Georgia.” Speaking of June 20 events, the report reads that “the government used excessive force to disperse a largely nonviolent protest in June, detaining and injuring scores, and pursuing largely one-sided accountability for it”. 

The report further noted that to avoid further political crisis the ruling Georgian Dream party “initially conceded” to hold 2020 parliamentary polls fully proportional, “but later voted down the initiative, sparking further protests.”

The HRW stressed that “impunity for abuse by law enforcement officials remained a persistent problem.” In this context, the watchdog notes that all three police officers that were charged with exceeding their powers and assaulting a detained protester on June 20-21, were later released on bail, while 15 protesters of initially charged 19 remain in pretrial custody.

Speaking of labor rights, the watchdog says “Georgian labor law does not sufficiently regulate working hours, rest time, weekly breaks, and night work, and does not provide for government oversight of all labor conditions.” It further notes that “lax regulations and resulting labor practices that often prioritize production targets undermine workers’ safety.”

Assessing the freedom of media in the country, the watchdog says the European Court of Human Rights’ July 18 ruling over the pro-opposition Rustavi 2 TV ownership dispute, “shook Georgia’s media landscape.”

“As a result, ownership reverted to a former owner, Kibar Khalvashi, who claimed that he had been forced to sell the station in 2006 below market value. Rustavi 2’s general director, Nika Gvaramia, alleged the lawsuit was orchestrated by the government to take over the station because it was seen as aligned with the opposition,” it reads.

In its report, the HRW also notes that the prosecutor’s office brought the charges against Gvaramia, who currently runs Mtavari Arkhi TV, as well as against against Avtandil Tsereteli, father of the founder of TV Pirveli, “another independent and critical broadcaster.” 

Referring to drug policy, the watchdog notes that “draft legislative reform that would introduce public health approaches to drug use and largely overhaul punitive practices remained stalled in parliament at time of writing [the report].”

The HRW speaks about the LGBT rights in Georgia as well, focusing on the confrontation from homophobic, ultra-nationalist hate groups against the “first-ever Pride Week” in Georgia. In this context, watchdog highlights that police investigation into the statements of ultra-conservative businessman Levan Vasadze, who announced “the formation of vigilante patrols against Tbilisi Pride and gay people,” “had no outcome at time of writing [of the report].”

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