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Georgian Dream continues ‘anti-NGO rhetoric’

26 October 2018
Bidzina Ivanishvili (ipress.ge)

On 26 October, former Georgian Prime Minister and the Chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili again berated several leading local non-governmental organisations, in an interview with journalists.

Ivanishvili reprimanded Eka Gigauri, the head of anti-corruption group Transparency International — Georgia for ‘crossing a line’.

‘Several NGOs […] baselessly accuse the government, and if the government responds to them, they portray it as political pressure. That’s what they do in some NGOs, whose leader is Eka Gigauri’.

‘I’ve hinted to her several times that it would be good if she leaves this sector, as her presence is a disservice to civil society’, Ivanishvili told journalists.

The former Prime Minister said that as deputy head of Georgia’s Border Police, Gigauri gave out bonuses to ‘over 190 special unit members’ after a week of crackdowns on anti-government protests in November 2007.

Ivanishvili claimed that later in November, she was promoted to captain for her role in this.

Gigauri has claimed several times that the allegations were false and aimed at discrediting Transparency International and the non-governmental sector. In 2015, she sued two people for slander for making the same accusations, demanding they refute their statements and apologise publicly. The case is ongoing.

Following Ivanishvili’s latest statement, Gigauri replied on her Facebook page that it was not ‘Ivanishvili’s business’ what would she does, and urged him to ‘give up this kind of rhetoric, because such an attitude towards civil society first and foremost damages the country’s reputation’.

She said Ivanishvili’s remarks made it ‘obvious’ who stood behind the earlier accusations.

Gigauri's alleged contribution to the violent dispersal of the November 2007 protests was also brought up by Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani in her reply to a representative of Transparency International at the Copenhagen International Anti-Corruption Conference on 23 October.

Gigauri has faced personal criticism from officials after on 24 October and in later TV comments she commented on rumours Georgia had opposed the appointment of Bridget Brink, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the US State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, as US Ambassador to Georgia, a position vacant since April.

‘Grand corruption and informal clan rule in Georgia’

The government has been highly critical of several leading NGOs after on 1 October, 13 major rights groups, including the Open Society Georgia Foundation, Transparency International — Georgia, GYLA, ISFED and others accused the government of attempting to ‘avoid responsibility’ over the Omega tapes scandal, a series of potentially incriminating leaked recordings aired throughout September on Georgian TV channels.

On 2 October, Parliamentary Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze scolded civil society groups over the joint statement critical of the authorities.

The groups had said that the government’s response to the scandal suggested they were ‘not planning to respond to the case’, and demanded action over the secret recordings of alleged racketeering, labelling them a ‘clear sign of grand corruption and informal clan rule in Georgia’.

In an Interview with Rustavi 2’s ‘Archevani’ (choice) programme on 2 October, Kobakhidze called the groups ‘13 politically biased men and women’ who would ‘fail to garner 1% of votes if they participated in elections’.

Five days later, Kobakhidze rebuked the non-governmental sector for failing to condemn what he called a ‘fascist’ statement by Rustavi 2 director Nika Gvaramia.

Two days earlier Gvaramia called on his Facebook followers to ‘harass’ supporters of presidential contender Salome Zurabishvili.

‘Those who defend fascism, participate in fascism’, stated Kobakhidze, identifying ISFED chair Mikheil Benidze as one of the ‘defenders’ of Gvaramia’s statement.

In a press conference on Friday with selected journalists, Ivanishvili lauded Kobakhidze for calling it what it is. ‘None of the non-governmental organisations came out expressing their position. Moreover, one of them, Mikheil Benidze, said [Rustavi 2 head Nika] Gvaramia did the right thing’, complained Ivanishvili.

ISFED, the International Society for Fair Elections And Democracy, is a major independent election watchdog in Georgia.

In their 3rd Interim pre-election Monitoring Report on 25 October, ISFED noted that the number of sponsored Facebook pages discrediting leading Georgian NGOs had increased immediately after criticism from the Parliament Speaker in early October.

Benidze stated on 5 October that Gvaramia’s call to ‘harass and purge’ supporters of ‘traitor’ Salome Zurabishvili ‘from public life’ fell within the limits of free speech and did not violate the electoral code.