Transparency International Georgia (TIG), a local watchdog, said on July 15 that the disciplinary proceedings initiated by Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani against Bachana Shengelia, a Georgian notary and son of Ia Kerzaia, the late principal of Public School N6 in Zugdidi, over his critical Facebook posts against the government, “create perception of bias and retribution.”
The watchdog called on the Justice Ministry to restore Shengelia’s access to the notary registry as required by the Tbilisi City Court ruling and to suspend the disciplinary proceedings until the Constitutional Court makes the decision on Shengelia’s appeal.
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The civil society organization noted that a chronology of making amendments to the Minister’s regulation on the disciplinary liability of notaries creates a perception of “using the disciplinary mechanism as a tool of retribution.”
The watchdog stressed that the Justice Minister’s May 22 amendment to the Regulation, defining the violation of the political neutrality principle as gross disciplinary misconduct, allowed Minister Tsulukiani to suspend Shengelia for a term of one month to two years, rather than warn or reprimand him, once the fact of disciplinary misconduct was observed.
The organization noted that the grounds for disciplinary action against Shengelia are not well-founded, as that “political neutrality” or “biased political views” are not well defined in the act. The watchdog added that the dismissed notary’s access to the electronic program needed for notarial activities was suspended without grounds.
TI Georgia maintained that restricting freedom of expression based on the bylaw instead of the law creates “a risk of imposing arbitrary and disproportionate restrictions” that may become “a basis for considering the norm unconstitutional.”
Carrying out the disciplinary proceedings without oral hearing is yet another problematic aspect of the case, said the CSO.