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Women’s rights advocates demand Georgian official resign over rape joke

15 July 2019
Levan Oniani New
Levan Oniani

Georgia’s ruling party has become embroiled in another scandal after an official made a misogynistic statement. Levan Oniani is accused by women’s rights advocates of making sexist comments against TV presenter Inga Grigolia. 

It is only the latest such comment by a member of the ruling Georgian Dream Party to cause a scandal in the country. 

The Georgia Women’s Movement, a women’s rights group, has demanded Oniani, Chair of the City Council (sakrebulo) of the southeast Georgian city of Rustavi, resign for a sexist comment he made about popular TV anchor Inga Grigolia. 

On 11 July, Grigolia hosted beleaguered Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia on her show Reaktsia (Reaction), on the television channel TV Pirveli, pressing him for 140 minutes about the use of police force against demonstrators on 20–21 June. 

[Read on OC Media: 5 violations by police during the Tbilisi clash]

Inga Grigolia and Giorgi Gakharia. (Screengrab from TV PIrveli)

The next day, Oniani, a member of the ruling Georgian Dream party, left a comment on a Facebook user’s post that supported Gakharia. 

After several other users claimed Grigolia was being outsmarted by Gakharia, Oniani wrote that ‘Inga complains about being raped without having been touched’.

He deleted the comment shortly afterwards.

Commenting under the original post that explicitly addressed the journalist, Oniani denied he meant Grigolia by ‘Inga’. He insisted it was meant for another woman he knew who happened to have the same name. 

On 13 July, the local branch of the opposition European Georgia Party held a rally in front of the Rustavi City Assembly calling on Oniani to apologise. 

The chair of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, Sopo Kiladze, also weighed in, calling the statement ‘shameful’. 

‘It is twice shameful when such a statement comes from a member of a political party’, Kiladze stated

On the following day, Oniani apologised to the unidentified ‘Inga’ as well as to Grigolia ‘in case’ she found his comment offensive. He added that ‘the other Inga’ did not find his ‘friendly joke’ offensive.

On 15 July, the opposition Alliance of Patriots Party expelled one of its own members for making slurs against Grigolia. Aleksandre Simonishvili, a city councillor in the town of Khashuri, called the journalist a ‘bitch’ and ‘enemy of the country’ on Facebook.

Georgian Dream ‘never reacts properly’ 

The statement from the Women’s Movement quickly followed Levan Oniani’s ‘apology’ on 14 July.

The advocacy group, responsible for several high-profile campaigns in recent years, expressed solidarity towards Grigolia and reprimanded Georgian Dream for their failure to ‘react properly’ to ‘sexist, violent, and discriminatory attitudes expressed by officials’.

The Women’s Movement said that in their apologies, officials only take ‘individual responsibility’ and not ‘political responsibility’. They said that the absence of the latter would further aggravate women’s rights in Georgia, which suffers a ‘high frequency of sexual violence’. 

According to the Interior Ministry, 5,900 women fell victim to domestic violence in Georgia in 2018.

‘We think that in a country with a declared policy for gender equality […] people having attitudes like Levan Oniani should not hold official posts’, the statement from the Women’s Movement read. 

No members of Georgian Dream have publicly supported calls for Oniani’s resignation.

Earlier in the year, another member of Georgian Dream, the Chair of the Zugdidi City Assembly, Tazo Patsatsia, was involved in a similar scandal. 

On 16 May, in the run-up to municipal elections, Patsatsia made a lewd joke about opposition United National Movement (UNM) member Tina Bokuchava, suggesting that she had had sex with former UNM party chair and ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili. 

Several other women, including the opposition mayoral candidate in Zugdidi, Sandra Roelofs, were also targeted with sexist slurs, street posters, and online posts. 

A post on one of the Facebook pages suspected of being run by the ruling party featuring a doctored photo of Roelofs. 14 May

In June, another Georgian Dream MP, Mikheil Kavelashvili, told Bokuchava in a heated debate that he ‘won't say anything more [abusive] to you because you’re a woman’. 

Targets of blackmail

Grigolia was among several public figures, including politicians and journalists critical of Georgian Dream, who were targeted in March 2016 with a series of sex tape leaks and threats to expect more unless they resigned from their posts.

Grigolia was among the few who publicly called out the blackmailers, insisting on-air that she would not be intimidated by the threats.

‘I am Inga Grigolia, a woman, a daughter, a mother, and a friend. I have a great lover, I have sex, and I intend to continue living my life this way’, Grigolia stated during a live broadcast on 14 March.

On 29 January, Georgian public defender Nino Lomjaria said that leaking sex-tapes had become a ‘systemic weapon against women’. 

Lomjaria urged the authorities to take into account the ‘discriminatory motive’ behind such crimes as an aggravating circumstance when prosecuting and to develop ‘complex measures’ to promptly react to leaks and raise public awareness of the issue.

Eka Beselia, a prominent former member of Georgian Dream, was among the victims of the leaks.

In March, Beselia claimed her sex tapes were recorded during the previous administration of the UNM and that she had been aware of them, but that they had only become public after she had a falling out with Georgian Dream.

[Read more on OC Media: Beselia gives Georgian government one-month ultimatum over sex tape leaks]