NGOs’ statement regarding the physical assault on the United National Movement members in village Kortskheli, Zugdidi Municipality

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We express extreme concern regarding the violent incident that occurred in village Kortskheli during the local by-election, when the UNM leaders Giga Bokeria, Nika Melia, Ako Minashvili, Eka Kherkheulidze, Nugzar Tsiklauri, Tengiz Gunava, as well as members of Zugididi UNM organization were brutally physically attacked and verbally abused.

Inaction of the police during the attack is categorically unacceptable and serves against the democratic process in Georgia. The police was required to prevent any violence, especially during such important process as election. It must be noted that providing for free and calm election environment is an absolute obligation of the government. This means that law enforcement agencies must stop conflicts in a timely manner. Inaction can be taken as support and help to one of the sides of a conflict.

With the general election coming soon, the incident that occurred on 22 May 2016 causes perception that such incidents may get even worse on the eve of the general election and on the election day, especially if the perpetrators are not adequately punished.

It is particularly alarming that according to the existing information the perpetrators were physically well-prepared individuals armed with batons. Prior to the assault they were actively avoiding media and, when pressed by the latter, claiming that they were only sportsmen who had come as tourists.

These circumstances cause legitimate perception that the incident was not a spontaneous conflict between two sides, but a controlled process with the perpetrators of the assault mobilized near the precinct in advance, in order to physically attack the UNM members and destabilize the election process.

It has to be noted that the attack on 22 May 2016 is not the first instance of violence against representatives of opposition parties or groups critical towards the government. The context that has formed in Georgia lately is also important, with brutal physical violence against minorities and various vulnerable groups left without adequate response. Inaction of the law enforcement agencies in such cases encourages future violent acts, and at the same time causes serious questions about political neutrality of these agencies. That is why the attack on 22 May 2016 can be seen as the result of the government’s indifferent attitude towards the violent campaign against representatives of the opposition and other individuals.

Considering all these circumstances, we call on the government of Georgia to state its position on the attack publically and condemn such forms of interference with the political process. At the same time, the law enforcement agencies must timely and effectively investigate these violent acts that obviously contain signs of criminal activity according to the Criminal Code, and adequately punish the perpetrators. Political neutrality of the police in the pre-election period is of critical importance, and effectiveness of the police response to this attack will be the indicator of whether election environment in the country is going to be democratic and equal.

Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)

Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)                     

Media Development Foundation (MDF)

Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI)

Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS)

Partnership for Human Rights (PHP)