The European Parliament adopted today a resolution titled “Violations of media freedom and safety of journalists in Georgia,” which lambasted the Georgian Dream authorities over handling press freedom, fell just short of calling for EU candidate status for the country, and called for sanctions against Bidzina Ivanishvili, ex-PM and Georgian Dream founder.
The resolution called on the Georgian authorities to resolutely uphold the highest standards of democracy, the rule of law, judicial independence, fair trials, and fundamental freedoms, including in the area of media freedom.
It said Georgia’s leadership should “unambiguously demonstrate their political determination to actualize the ambitious European aspirations of the people of Georgia, as witnessed by the country’s application for EU membership.”
The Parliament said, “the legitimate aspirations of the people of Georgia deserve to be fulfilled and therefore calls for the EU institutions to work towards granting EU candidate status to Georgia, in line with Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, on the basis of merit and on the condition that the Georgian authorities fulfil all criteria.”
Plethora of Issues
The resolution noted a plethora of issues, including, but not limited to press freedom:
- Mob attacks against over 50 journalists on July 5, 2021;
- The death of Aleksandre Lashkarava, a TV Pirveli cameraman, a few days after being assaulted on July 5;
- “The persistent lack of diligent investigations or prosecutions” of those responsible for the violence against journalists and peaceful demonstrators at the Tbilisi Pride march on July 5;
- Significant downgrading of Georgia in the World Press Freedom Index ranking from 60th to 89th place over the year;
- Journalists, particularly those from media channels critical of the government, facing difficulties in accessing public information;
- Alleged spying on journalists by the security services;
- The increasing number of verbal assaults on journalists and the defamation lawsuits, including those launched by government officials and individuals associated with the ruling party, against critical media representatives;
- A lack of transparency and effectiveness in investigations, “which has led to a widespread impression of impunity for those guilty of crimes against journalists;”
- Sentencing of Nika Gvaramia, government-critical TV chief to three-and-a-half years “on dubious charges”
- “Politically motivated cases against media owners and representatives;”
- Change of law on electronic communications that gives the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), a regulatory body, the right to appoint special managers at the telecommunications companies;
- “Continued discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons;”
- “Regular attacks by the government” against Public Defender Nino Lomjaria.
Calling for Sanctions Against Ivanishvili
In the resolution, the European Parliament expresses its concern over “the destructive role played by the sole oligarch, Bidzina Ivanishvili, in Georgia’s politics and economy, and the level of control he exerts over the government and its decisions, including those on the politically motivated persecution of journalists and political opponents.”
The Parliament said it is “deeply worried by Ivanishvili’s exposed personal and business links to the Kremlin, which determine the position of the current Government of Georgia towards sanctions on Russia.”
It then called on the Council and “democratic partners to consider imposing personal sanctions on Ivanishvili for his role in the deterioration of the political process in Georgia.”
The resolution acknowledged the diverse and pluralistic media landscape in Georgia but regretted the extremely tense relations between the ruling party and critical media outlets.
It called on the Georgian authorities to release former president Mikheil Saakashvili from prison on humanitarian grounds in order to allow him to undergo proper medical treatment abroad.
The document expressed its concern over “the steady rise” in Russian disinformation and information manipulation in Georgia, in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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The critical resolution comes as Georgia is waiting for the European Commission to deliver its opinion on the country’s candidacy bid soon, with the European Council expected to make a final decision by the end of June.
Georgia applied on March 3, following the footsteps of Ukraine that sent its application bid to Brussels a few days after Russia’s full-scale invasion. Moldova also signed the application the same day. Unlike in the case of Georgia, the European Parliament has expressed unequivocal support in calling the EU Member States to grant candidate status to Moldova and Ukraine.