Detailed Freedom House ‘Nations in Transit 2023’ Report on Georgia Released

Freedom House, a U.S.-based rights watchdog, released its Nations in Transit 2023 report on May 24. According to the report, Georgia’s democracy score decreased from 3.07 to 3.04, leading to its classification as a “transitional government or hybrid regime.” This classification remains unchanged from the previous assessments.

The Nations in Transit report assesses the status of democratic governance in 29 post-communist nations across Europe and Eurasia, highlighting significant developments in the past year. Ratings range from 1 to 7, with 1 denoting the lowest and 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress. An overall democracy score is an average of ratings for separate indicators, involving national democratic governance; electoral process; civil society; independent media; local democratic governance; judicial framework and independence; and corruption.

Importantly, this year Georgia Independent Media rating declined from 3.50 to 3.25 “due to a multiyear trend of worsening harassment and violence against journalists” including exemplified by the arrest and sentencing of the director of the government-critical TV station, as well as an “increasingly polarized and politicized media environment that has undermined editorial independence.”

Hence the decline in the democracy score, notes the report.

Independent Media

The Independent Media rating declined from 3.50 to 3.25. The report highlights that in 2022, “Georgia’s media environment remained vibrant and diverse but politically polarized”. The arrest of Nika Gvaramia, the director of the opposition-leaning Mtavari Arkhi TV, was a significant development impacting media freedom and independence in Georgia, which was perceived as another attempt to silence voices critical of the government.

Additionally, the report takes note of TV Pirveli cameraman, Lekso Lashkarava’s inclusion in UNESCO’s list of killed journalists with an unresolved justice status, further complicating an already challenging year for Georgian media. Other concerns outlined in the report include allegations of censorship in public broadcasting, revealing political bias in the editorial policy of public television, as well as ongoing worries regarding media surveillance in Georgia throughout 2022.

National Democratic Governance

The National Democratic Governance rating dropped from 2.50 to 2.25 in 2022 due to political and social polarization, impeding collaboration on policy recommendations with Western partners. Concerns were raised over the abolition of the State Inspector’s Services. The international partners expressed worry about the practice of hastily adopted legislative changes. In response, the GD adopted a defensive narrative, seeking to discredit the criticism as incorrect or “unfair.”

The report also highlights the high level of polarization in Georgia. Noting, that while the decision of the opposition to launch a separate platform on the EU recommendations with the CSO’s is seen as a positive step, it also sheds light on the segmented government and antagonism within the ruling party, making coordination towards common goals more challenging.

The ruling party representatives often dismiss the remarks, evaluations, or recommendations from Western partners, says the report. GD has been criticized “for suggesting that the West puts undue pressure on Georgia to become involved in the war or contributes to societal and political polarization in the country.” Furthermore, the report underscores that GD accuses media, CSOs and opposition parties for “anti-EU” activities thus retorting to the “practice of shifting the blame”. The report notes that the representatives of the “People’s Power” faction, formed by the deputies who left “Georgian Dream”, introduced draft laws on “Foreign Agents“. The report emphasized, that these proposed laws were perceived as an attempt to limit the autonomy of CSOs and the media, as well as displaying “authoritarian tendencies in Georgia and increasing Russian influence”.

Additional criticism of the GD ruling party stems from its stance on the war in Ukraine. The report highlights that Georgia’s official position on the conflict has been deemed “dubious, problematic, or inconsistent” by both domestic and international stakeholders. Furthermore, concerns were raised regarding the government’s exploitation of the war topic for domestic political purposes.

Electoral Process

According to the report, the rating of the Electoral Process remained the same as in 2021, with 3.00 points. The electoral crisis arising from the 2020 parliamentary elections was partly addressed in 2022. However, fundamental concerns such as the misuse of administrative and budget resources in electoral activities remain unresolved. CSOs closely monitored the adoption and implementation of revisions to the electoral code and system, but, despite this, some key groups involved in electoral matters were not invited to participate in the electoral reforms working group established to meet EU candidacy criteria.

The report also notes documents leaked by the former deputy head of the State Security Service of Georgia (SSG) from 2018–20 revealing deeply problematic structural issues in the electoral system. 

Civil Society

The Civil Society rating in Georgia has remained unchanged from the previous year, staying at 4.00. This stability is attributed to the highly active and motivated CSOs in the country. The report notes, that “during the year, both active and former members of the ruling GD launched smear campaigns against CSOs over financial transparency, preparing the ground for the proposed law on “foreign agents.” Despite those efforts by governing elites to undermine and marginalize them, CSOs continued to actively participate in reforms and government oversight processes.

In response to GD’s lack of active support for Ukraine, 60 Georgian and Ukrainian CSOs joined forces to release a joint statement “in an impressive display of unity”, urging a “strict, unified, and forceful” international response to Russian aggression. However, there has been a visible presence and growing representation of illiberal and far-right groups in the political landscape of 2022, which have openly espoused “violent, nativist, and homophobic rhetoric”.

Judicial Framework and Independence

According to the report, the Judicial Framework and Independence rating is set at 2.50.

In 2022, Georgia’s judicial framework was criticized for problems with equality before the law and politically motivated prosecution, says the report. In this context the document mentions Gvaramia and Saakashvili cases. The report also notes that the receptiveness towards local or international criticism and suggestions for reforming the judiciary has been particularly low among the ruling GD and top representatives of the judicial system.

Georgia’s justice system faced scrutiny due to concerns about court impartiality, politically motivated high-profile cases, and hasty adoption of judicial amendments without adequate internal or external consultations. The appointment of controversial judges to key judicial positions persisted. The slow progress in implementing much-discussed judicial reforms reflects a lack of political determination to enhance judicial independence and efficacy in Georgia. Delayed reforms, disregard for recommendations by international and local entities regarding legislative changes, appointments of controversial judges, to high judicial positions, including in High Council of Justice, clan-based influence within the courts, and politically motivated prosecutions all hinder the independence of the Georgian judiciary.

Local Democratic Governance and Corruption

The Local Democratic Governance rating in 2022, as highlighted in the report, remained at 2.75. Medium and large-scale corruption is visible in Georgia, while the tendency for bribery and small-scale corruption is lower than the world average. Critical issues persist in local self-governance, including corruption, the absence of power division, and power abuse. An imbalance favoring the ruling party in city councils has created hindrances in decision-making processes. Concerns arise from allegations of the ruling party tailoring legislative and procedural reforms to serve its own interests, evident in draft amendments to the election code and local self-government code.

Regarding corruption, the rating remains at 3.50. Medium and large-scale corruption are evident in Georgia, although the prevalence of bribery and small-scale corruption is lower compared to the global average.

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