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Annual Human Rights Watch report has strong words for Saakashvili administration

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Monday, February 4
The government approach to human rights is “leading Georgia away from international standards” and “represents a gamble with freedom,” according to an annual Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released January 31.

The report also lists poor prison conditions and the restriction of fair trial and private property rights as cause for concern and says government actions in the run up to the January 5 snap presidential election “marred the pre-election campaign.”

The police crackdown on demonstrators caused a “serious human rights crisis,” the report says, adding that there is an emerging, dominant view in the government that “short-term, supposedly minor sacrifices in human rights are justifiable to build a stronger state, which can better protect human rights in the long term.”

It also highlights instances of attacks by unidentified assailants on opposition activists and cases of the police detaining people on “questionable charges such as hooliganism,” at the time of the November 7 crisis.

The annual report comes days after HRW published its submission on Georgia to the European Commission’s ENP Progress Report, calling for a “comprehensive, independent, transparent and conclusive investigation into [the] excessive use of force on November 7.”

However, ruling party MP Davit Kirkitadze told the Messenger that a commission to investigate the November 7 crisis will be established after parliamentary elections, which are expected to be held in spring. Kirkitadze said there is not enough time for a full investigation before the current parliamentary session ends in March.

The state of emergency and the aftermath of the November crisis impacted upon the election campaign, the annual report says, with media restrictions and shutdown of Imedi TV, a “key alternative media outlet,” tainting the pre-election environment.

HRW also points to human rights violations in the prison system, stating that inmates face “inadequate nutrition, medical care and exercise,” and that penitentiary facilities in Georgia continue to be overcrowded.

Between October 2006 and October 2007 the prison population doubled, with the government building more prisons as opposed to finding alternatives to pretrial detention, the report says.

It criticizes the government decision in May to lower the criminal age of responsibility from 14 to 12, as against international recommendations and “further weakening the protection of children in conflict with the law.”

On property rights, the report says the government has failed to “adequately compensate” owners of confiscated property, and cites cases of authorities seizing property before owners can properly mount a legal challenge.

HRW also underlines instances of restrictions on fair trial, highlighting the case of Irakli Batiashvili, an opposition politician imprisoned for giving “intellectual assistance” to a warlord in the Kodori gorge.

Shortcomings at his trial included the defense being provided only with a transcript of taped evidence that led to his conviction, the report says.