Freedom House Georgia 2021 report: politicized courts, media pressure, corruption in focus
The annual report of Freedom House, which identifies Georgia as a transitional or hybrid regime, stated that the country’s democracy score has decreased down to 3.18 out of 7, as opposed to 3.25 that Georgia scored a year before.
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October 2020 Parliamentary Elections
When addressing the conduct of the October 31, 2020 parliamentary elections, election observers identified a number of problems during the pre-election period, including voter intimidation, campaign delays and attacks on the media.
“In addition, cases of abusing administrative resources have been identified in Georgia, leading to the further blurring of the lines between the ruling Georgian Dream party and the state. At the initiative of the government, during the pre-election period, social projects were expanded and cases of alleged intimidation and politically motivated dismissals increased”, the statement reads.
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In regards to the country’s judicial system, the Freedom House report emphasized that trial observers identified political motives in a number of cases.
The report also mentions “an influential group of judges” who controls the courts via the High Council of Justice:
“In 2020, four similar cases dominated the headlines. Among them were the cases of Irakli Okruashvili (leader of the opposition Victorious Georgia party), Nikanor Melia (leader of the former ruling United National Movement party), Giorgi Rurua (founder of the opposition channel Mtavari Archi and one of the organizers of the June 2019 rallies) and Giorgi Ugulava (former mayor of Tbilisi). All four cases were treated with significant legal deficiencies and violations.
There was talk of political motives, in cases of money laundering charges against political and business leaders Mamuka Khazaradze, Badri Japaridze, and Avtandil Tsereteli”.
On a 7-point scale, the independence of the Georgian media is estimated at 3.5 points. The report noted that pressure on the media intensified ahead of the elections, which further increased polarization.
The report stated that the authorities pressured the media during the election campaign with derogatory statements and referring to the independent or opposition broadcasters such as Mtavari Archi, Formula and TV Pirveli as “fake news channels.”
The report is also critical about the amendments to the broadcasting law made in July 2020, saying by doing that, the Communications Regulatory Commission received the right to intervene in media activities.
“The proposed changes allow the commission to intervene in the administrative and financial affairs of media companies, as well as in freedom of expression by means of appointing so-called “special managers”. The draft amendments were discussed within a week and approved on July 17 with minimal participation of interested parties”, the report emphasizes.
The Freedom House report also says signs of corruption have been identified in the assessment of the country’s management of the pandemic and party campaign donations.
“In 2020, corruption remained a problem in Georgia. This was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis management as well as the pre-election campaign. In the run-up to the elections, the ruling Georgian Dream party collected over 22 million lari in donations, far exceeding those received by any other party. Political donations carry the risk of corruption and should therefore be monitored by special control groups”, the report says.