Georgia: school director hounded to death during elections?
The responsibility for the death of a school director in the Georgian city of Zugdidi is being placed on the Ministry of Education.
According to the family of Ia Kerzaia, the school director, she had refused to work for the ruling Georgian Dream party. She was then threatened with dismal, and later suffered a stroke due to pressure brought on by constant school inspections. The inspections were organized by the ministry in November 2018 during the presidential elections. This led to Kerzaia’s death, says her daughter, Manana Shengelia.
An investigation into the case was conducted by the non-governmental organization Fair Elections.
A report was then published on 28 March which stated that the school inspections were indicative of discrimination against Ia Kerzaia for political reasons.
The organization further says that the reasons for the school inspections were vague, and that the assessments made in the final inspection report were unjustified.
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Ia Kerzaia, the director of school No 6 in Zugdidi, publicly stated during the election period that the authorities were putting pressure on her because of her political views.
The second round of presidential elections in Georgia took place on 28 November. Inspections began at the school on 9 November, shortly before the elections. The Ministry of Education claims that the reason for the inspections was a letter that reported several serious irregularities in the school.
Kerzaia suffered a stroke soon after and was hospitalized – she died on 2 December 2018.
Her daughter, lawyer Manana Shengelia, calls the incident “murder that was planned and carried out by the Ministry of Education”.
What does the independent investigation report say?
The Fair Elections organization believes that the situation is suspicious for several reasons.
In particular, their report states that the time the inspections took place oddly coincided with the election period. Also, during the inspection itself, many procedural violations were committed.
Fair Elections says that the Ministry of Education received a total of 288 applications in 2018 demanding inspections in specific educational institutions. However, checks were conducted only in seven schools: six of them were conducted in November, directly between the first and second rounds of the presidential elections.
The organization has called on the Ministry of Science and Education to develop standards and methodology for inspections, as well as to refrain from inspecting schools during an election period.
Official reaction to the independent investigation
The chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze, said that the conclusions of the report were ‘baseless’ and that there were no political motives behind the inspections.
“Such statements should be supported by serious evidence. However, this is not the first unfounded statement by this organization,” said Kobakhidze.
He also noted that a case has been launched and that the official investigation will draw its own conclusions.
Opposition party European Georgia released a statement concerning the Kerzaia case and demanded the resignation and prosecution of the leadership of the Ministry of Education.
Party members also demand that the chief prosecutor of Georgia report to the parliamentary education committee.
Moreover, the party believes a special parliamentary group should be created to investigate this case.