The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), a local watchdog, has criticized an investigation into alleged racial discrimination conducted by the State Security Service in Kvemo Kartli and Kakheti regions on May 30, assessing the process as aimed at curbing freedom of expression of civic activists and keeping in check their activities.
In a statement released on June 16, EMC highlighted that Tamta Mikeladze, who manages a program within the organization, was summoned by the Security Service for “questioning” in connection with the inquiry, which it said amounts to “an act of arbitrariness by the State.”
The organization called into question the fact that the ongoing investigation was not targeting “leaders of ultra-conservative groups”, who it claimed openly use hate speech against ethnic Azerbaijanis. On the contrary, EMC maintained, the probe was targeting civil society activists “who convey needs and concerns of ethnic [minority] groups.”
The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center also pointed to the “problematic” nature of the content and wording of questions posed to civil society activists, noting that they aroused a sense of “controlling and inspecting freedom of thought and expression.”
These questions contribute to fomenting tensions between different ethnic groups, EMC said.
The watchdog further highlighted authorities maintain lenient attitude towards “crimes committed by ultra-conservative groups.”
EMC called on the State Security Service to clarify the purpose of the investigation and not allow “arbitrary inspections of civil liberties,” as well as to cease a practice of summoning civil rights activities.
It further appealed to the State authorities to “create a space for discussion based on fundamental human rights” to foster civic integration. Authorities should reckon with the fact that investigation of crimes related to human rights abuses by the Security Service is “problematic,” stressed the watchdog, adding that this rule should be amended.
Finally, the watchdog called on the Public Defender of Georgia to monitor the probe and publish its assessments in a timely manner.
Other CSOs’ Assessments
Seven Georgian civil society outfits, including prominent watchdogs – such as Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, TI Georgia, and Georgian Democracy Initiative – have also reacted to questioning of Tamta Mikeladze by security authorities, dubbing it as “a warning to civic activists.”
In a joint statement, the CSOs stressed that the Georgian state was plagued with several grave challenges, including failure to uphold the rule of law and encroachment of security authorities – who are not held checked by legislative and judiciary branches. In this context, the group claimed, “civil society often assumes the role of public oversight and [ensure] balance of power.”
They further appealed to the authorities to “take into account” that civil society outfits are “allies to the state in resolving the core problem.”