The Daily Beat: 17 March
UK foreign secretary James Cleverly paid an official visit to Georgia, where he met with Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ilia Darchiashvili, and civil society representatives. James Cleverley also visited the occupation line near the Tskhinvali region, reiterating the UK’s firm support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. According to government read-outs, during official conversations, the sides discussed strategic partnership under the “Wardrop Dialogue,” covering a broad spectrum of cooperation issues, emphasizing defense & security cooperation in light of the regional security challenges. ”We are working closely with you to strengthen your resilience to Russian interference, and that is why we continue to support your Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” Secretary Cleverly said at a joint press conference with FM Darchiashvili. Against the background of mass protests against the “foreign agent” law, Secretary Cleverly called on his counterpart to “strengthen commitment” to media freedom, strengthening of civil society, and judicial independence. NGO representatives briefed the UK foreign secretary on the recent developments, including “the situation in the media, the case of [imprisoned Mtavari TV manager] Nika Gvaramia, and political prisoners.” This was the first visit by a British foreign secretary to Tbilisi in seven years.
Transparency International – Georgia, an anti-corruption watchdog, criticized the government for the extreme lack of transparency. In its statement, TI-Georgia said the Government failed to make public 372 decrees adopted during the 47 cabinet meetings in 2022. TI-Georgia says many decrees “concern the transfer of state property.” The Government also refused all 47 public information request letters submitted by the watchdog in this regard. TI-Georgia called on the government administration to comply with the legal requirement and duly publish the decrees.
Natalia Zardiashvili, a warden at the drug addiction center, was sentenced by the court to 6 years in prison for “exceeding official powers” in an incident on February 8, 2020. On that day, Zardiashvili and her colleague allegedly pushed a drug use rehabilitation program beneficiary out of the room after he started insulting them and got violent. Later, Zardiashvili disclosed a potential criminal conspiracy of illegal drug smuggling with the involvement of the head and doctors from the drug addiction prevention center. “It is a civic duty to contribute to disclosure when you witness a crime. But such a circumstance does not exclude a possibility that a crime was committed by yourself [as well],” the judge told Zardiashvili. The head of the Democratic Initiative of Georgia, an organization that represented Ms. Zardiashvili in the court, told Radio Liberty that the charges over February 8 incident were brought six months later, after Zardiashvili’s accusations against the center and that the late prosecution, as well as the sentence bearing a maximum possible penalty, indicates that Zardiashvili was punished for whistleblowing.
PEN Center Georgia, a local branch of the international association for promoting the freedom of expression, asked the UNESCO director-general to strip the ruling party MP, pianist Eliso Bolkvadze of the title of Peace Ambassador, which she held since 2015. One hundred twenty-eight people signed the letter. Eliso Bolkvadze voted in favor of the Russian-style foreign agents’ law, leading to mass protests and withdrawal of the legislation.