Georgian notary stripped of license for ‘biased political’ content of Facebook posts
Back in May, the Georgian Ministry of Justice suspended Bachana Shengelia’s right to work as a notary public due to the ‘politically biased views and political assessments’ he had made on Facebook.
NGOs said this was a violation of freedom of speech, and soon the case made its way to the Constitutional Court.
Shengelia had been working as a notary public in Georgia’s western city of Zugdidi for eight years.
On May 19, he was no longer able to access the notary registry system, and his office e-mail was also blocked.
Reason – posts on social networks
On June 24, Bachana Shengelia received a letter from the Ministry of Justice stating that disciplinary proceedings had been launched against him by order of the minister.
The letter also explains the reason: Shengelia had published posts on his Facebook page with “biased political views and made political assessments.”
Georgian State Security Service questioning politicians, journalists about Facebook coronavirus posts
The Georgian security service has opened a case looking into ‘the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus.’ Experts say this amounts to censorship and intimidation of opponents
The security service has opened the case due to the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus. Experts say this constitutes censorship and intimidation of opponents
Connection with the Kerzaia case
Bachana Shengelia himself is confident that this decision is connected with the death of his mother, Ia Kerzaia – the former director of Zugdidi public school No. 6 who had a stroke in December 2018.
Her son says the stroke was induced by stress brought about by a predatory inspection of her school after she refused to help support the ruling Georgian Dream party and independent candidate Salome Zurabishvili in the presidential elections.
The prosecutor’s office of Georgia began investigating the death of Kerzaia, but soon closed it “due to lack of evidence of a crime”.
The Shengelia v. Georgia lawsuit was filed with the Strasbourg Human Rights Court in November 2019.
Bachana Shengelia is convinced that the disciplinary proceedings against him are connected with his activity and the transfer of the case to Strasbourg.
Because of the Shengelia case, the Minister of Justice of Georgia issued an order on May 22, 2020, which obligated notaries to make publicly “only neutral statements regarding politicians and political issues” and forbade them to express their political views even on personal pages on Facebook.
The first and so far the only person against whom the Ministry of Justice has applied this restriction has been Bachana Shengelia.
Shengelia appealed the decision of the ministry to block his access to the notarial register in Tbilisi City Court.
The court instructed the ministry to restore Shengel’s access to all programs necessary for notarial activities before the completion of the process.
However, the Ministry of Justice is in no hurry to execute the court decision.
Shengelia has already applied to the National Bureau of Enforcement to enforce the judgment.
Constitutional Court Dispute
The Association of Young Lawyers of Georgia (GYLA) appealed to the Constitutional Court on behalf of Bachana Shengelia to appeal the minister’s order obliging notaries to adhere to the principle of political neutrality.
“The punishment of a notary public for expressing political sympathy or distaste on a personal Facebook page is a disproportionate measure and a serious interference in the freedom of political expression of a Georgian citizen. Such a measure cannot be justified by any legitimate goals,” the organization said in a statement.
The organization notes that the restriction of the right to self-expression, according to the constitution, is allowed only by legislative means, but cannot be introduced by order of the Minister of Justice.
“Kadyrovshchina and censorship, as in Russia” – reaction on social media
Facebook users have by and large condemned the actions of the authorities, and many were not shy in the language they used to express their distaste:
“They are like Kadyrov. Even in Russia, only Kadyrov and such villains do such things. And even there, not everyone subscribes to such inhumanity.”
“The Minister of Justice, Tea Tsulukiani, turns out to have employees whose sole task is to read the status of employees on Facebook.”
“In the Soviet Union, when a person was shot, his family was forced to pay for the bullet. It was the most incredible humiliation, spitting at the soul. The man’s mother was killed, and then in the best of Soviet traditions, he was deprived of the opportunity to work – they say ‘how dare you criticize us on Facebook?’”
“The pre-election ‘repressive’ machine has begun its work. Dismissal due to statuses on a social network is a sign of the return of Russian censorship to Georgia”, another Facebook user wrote.
On July 7, a rally was held near the building of the Ministry of Justice in support of Bachana Shengelia under the slogan “Stop political persecution.”
NGO: “This is open reprisal and persecution”
Non-governmental organizations claim that the notarial powers of the Bachans of Shengelia were terminated illegally.
“Being in a public service, such as a notary public, does not necessarily mean that a person is prohibited from freedom of expression,” said Sulkhan Saladze, chairman of GYLA.
Giorgi Kldiashvili, head of the Freedom of Information Institute (IDFI), considers the Shengelia case to be “documented harassment.”
Bachana Shengelia still does not know when he will be able to resume his activities. He intends to publicise a letter sent to him by the Ministry of Justice in the case of the death of his mother.
Shengelia has also appealed to the prosecutor. He demands an investigation into the abuse of power by officials of the Ministry of Justice.