Georgia’s constitution provides for an executive branch that reports to the prime minister, a unicameral parliament, and a separate judiciary. The government is accountable to parliament. The president is the head of state and commander in chief. The president is elected by members of the electoral college, comprised of all members of parliament, members of the high councils of the autonomous republics, and city council representatives. The country held two rounds of parliamentary elections in October and November 2020. In its final report, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe stated the first round of parliamentary elections was competitive and, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected, but “pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state reduced public confidence in some aspects of the process.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe deployed observers for local elections held in two rounds in October. In a preliminary assessment of the first round, the observers stated, “Contestants were able to campaign freely in a competitive environment that was, however, marred by widespread and consistent allegations of intimidation, vote-buying, pressure on candidates and voters, and an unlevel playing field.” In a preliminary assessment of the second round, the observers stated, “Candidates were generally able to campaign freely, but allegations of intimidation and pressure on voters persisted. Sharp imbalances in resources and an undue advantage of incumbency further benefited the ruling party and tilted the playing field.”
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service of Georgia have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of public order. The ministry is the primary law enforcement organization and includes the national police force, the border security force, and the Georgian Coast Guard. The State Security Service is the internal intelligence service responsible for counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and anticorruption efforts. There were indications that at times civilian authorities did not maintain effective control of domestic security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces allegedly committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: serious problems with the independence of the judiciary along with arbitrary or selective detentions, investigations, and prosecutions widely considered to be politically motivated; unlawful interference with privacy; violence and threats of violence against journalists; limited respect for freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and crimes involving violence or threats targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons and activists.
The government took steps to investigate some officials for human rights abuses, but impunity remained a problem. The government’s failure to credibly investigate and prosecute the organizers of violence on July 5-6 resulted in impunity for those abuses. Lack of accountability also continued for the inappropriate police use of force against journalists and protesters during June 2019 demonstrations and the 2017 abduction and rendition from Georgia of Azerbaijani journalist and activist Afgan Mukhtarli.
Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained outside central government control, and de facto authorities were supported by Russian forces. The cessation of hostilities from 2008 remained in effect, but Russian guards restricted the movement of local populations. Significant human rights issues in the regions included credible reports of unlawful detentions; restrictions on movement, especially of ethnic Georgians; restrictions on voting or otherwise participating in the political process; and restrictions on the ability of ethnic Georgians to own property or register businesses. While there was little official information on the human rights and humanitarian situation in South Ossetia, de facto authorities refused to permit most ethnic Georgians driven out by the 2008 conflict to return to their homes in South Ossetia. De facto authorities did not allow most international organizations regular access to South Ossetia to provide humanitarian assistance. Russian “borderization” of the administrative boundary lines increased, further restricting movement and separating residents from their communities and livelihoods. Russian and de facto authorities in both regions committed abuses with impunity.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; government respect for these rights was uneven.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of assembly. Human rights organizations expressed concern, however, regarding provisions in the law, including the requirement that political parties and other organizations give five days’ notice to local authorities to assemble in a public area, thereby precluding spontaneous demonstrations. The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs reported that police sometimes restricted, ineffectively managed, or failed to protect freedom of assembly.
To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, on June 23, parliament extended for the third time amendments to the law giving the government power to restrict movement and gatherings and to implement other measures without a state of emergency to prevent the spread of COVID-19 until January 1, 2022.
While a number of protests took place during the year, there were reports that police at times restricted or failed to protect individuals’ right to freedom of assembly. For example, on July 5, police failed to take appropriate action to protect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly for individuals who had planned to participate in a Pride event. Approximately 3,000 far-right demonstrators violently rioted through Tbilisi, destroying an opposition protest site at parliament, attacking NGO offices, and assaulting more than 50 journalists and others following statements from Prime Minister Garibashvili that called the planned Tbilisi Pride event, March for Dignity, inappropriate and described it as a plot by “Saakashvili and the radical opposition” aimed at sparking tension and destabilization in the country. The prime minister alleged that 95 percent of the population opposed the event as a justification for blaming Tbilisi Pride for the violence.
The Georgian Democracy Initiative reported that far-right counterdemonstrators were organized by Guram Palavandishvili, a member of the pro-Russian and nationalist group Georgian Idea and the head of the Society for the Protection of Children’s Rights; Levan Vasadze, a businessman and the founder of the Unity, Essence, Hope political party; and Konstantin Morgoshia’s online outlet Alt-Info. Protesters included a number of Georgian Orthodox priests, some of whom posted videos on social media that appeared to call for and endorse the violence.
Reports and videos showed that police failed to arrest far-right actors as they assaulted police, journalists, and others seen to be associated with the pride march or Western values. The group attempted to storm parliament but was unable to do so and tore down the EU flag flying in front of parliament. One Polish tourist was stabbed, allegedly for appearing to be associated with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community. LGBTQI+ activists described feeling hunted as the locations where they sought refuge were discovered by far-right groups. Activists expressed concern that they were found due to government assistance. Throughout the day the Ministry of Internal Affairs failed to deploy riot control measures. Weeks in advance, ministry officials pressured organizers to cancel the March for Dignity, stating they could not protect the right to assembly because they expected between 20,000 and 50,000 counterdemonstrators.
The violence by far-right groups, comments by the government, and the inaction of security forces was widely condemned by NGOs, the Public Defender’s Office (the ombudsperson), and the international community.
On July 6, a spontaneous protest against the July 5 violence occurred outside of parliament. Far-right groups mobilized approximately 500 counterprotesters, seemingly led by Guram Palavandishvili, who threw rocks, bottles, and fireworks at peaceful protesters and police. Once again police did not deploy sufficient riot control equipment and personnel. As the peaceful protesters were dispersing, far-right groups broke past police and chased peaceful protesters and again took down the EU flag and burned it.
A total of 31 individuals were charged in six separate criminal indictments as of year’s end. The majority of those indicted, 27, were charged with participation in acts of group violence, prevention of journalistic duties, and unlawful entry and threats of violence. Three individuals were charged with raiding the Tbilisi Pride office, including participating in the use of violence and threats of violence as well as for violating private and public property as a group, while one person was charged with battering a civilian. The cases were in various stages of trial with two defendants pleading not guilty and one defendant pleading partially guilty, claiming he hit someone because he was provoked. All three defendants were released from pretrial detention. Authorities did not, however, make any formal arrests of individuals responsible for organizing the violence.
There were reports police continued to employ the administrative offenses code to restrict freedom of assembly. On April 13, police arrested six persons under the code during a protest against the planned Namakhvani Power Plant. This followed an April 12 statement by 13 Georgian civil society organizations that expressed solidarity with protesters against the project and stated “guaranteed rights to assembly and manifestation (were) gravely violated by the state.” Transparency International and the Open Society Foundation issued similar statements critical of government efforts to restrict the freedom of assembly of the Namakhvani protestors.
During the year the Tbilisi City Court continued to try three cases connected with the June 2019 events. The cases involved charges against one Internal Affairs Ministry Special Tasks Department officer for intentionally targeting nonviolent protesters and two criminal police officers for abuse of power; one officer was accused of beating a protester while arresting him, the other of beating a protester under arrest. The three defendants were charged with exceeding authority by using violence or weapons, a crime punishable by five to eight years’ imprisonment and deprivation of the right to hold public office for up to three years. All three defendants were released under the amnesty law passed on September 7.
Freedom of Association
There were reports that some government representatives and supporters of the ruling party pressured political opposition figures and supporters (see sections 1.d. and 1.e.).
c. Freedom of Religion
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law makes acting on the basis of prejudice because of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity an aggravating factor for all crimes. According to NGOs, however, the government rarely enforced the law. The Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs trained officers on hate crimes.
The Public Defender’s Office reported LGBTQI+ individuals continued to experience systemic violence, oppression, abuse, intolerance, and discrimination. LGBTQI+ rights organizations reported several instances of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals during the year. Authorities opened investigations into several of the cases. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, in the first nine months of the year criminal prosecutions were initiated against 64 persons on the basis of intolerance on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The office reported that violence against LGBTQI+ individuals, whether in the family or in public spaces, was a serious problem and that the government’s actions were insufficient to respond to this challenge.
LGBTQI+ organizations, NGOs, and the Public Defender’s Office reported the government’s ineffective antidiscrimination policy reduced the LGBTQI+ community’s trust in state institutions, and they pointed to homophobic statements by politicians and public officials as furthering hatred and intolerance against the community. For example on July 5, regarding the planned Tbilisi Pride march, Prime Minister Garibashvili stated “the march scheduled today carries risks of civic confrontation because the march is unacceptable by the vast majority of the country’s population. That is why I believe that the conduct of the march on Rustaveli Avenue is not reasonable.” He added separately, “The opposition headed by Saakashvili is behind the pride march, which is aimed at provoking civil confrontation and turmoil.”
During the year there was a rise in attacks against LGBTQI+ persons and those perceived to be associated with the LGBTQI+ community, most notably against transgender women. Violent protests and riots during Tbilisi Pride culminated in homophobic and anti-Western riots on July 5 (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association). Individual attacks were also on the rise. For example on April 30, a 17-year-old transgender girl was attacked by two unknown suspects who beat her, smashed her cell phone, and used transphobic rhetoric. On May 1, two individuals were charged for this crime and were released by the court on relatively low bail given the nature of the violent crime. On June 7, the case was referred for trial to the Tbilisi City Court; as of year’s end, the trial continued.
On October 31, a man entered a massage parlor in Tbilisi and attacked two transgender women with a knife, killing one and wounding another. The suspect was arrested and faced a charge of premeditated murder. The Prosecutor General’s Office said the suspect “wanted to kill transgender people on the grounds of intolerance of gender identity.” As of year’s end, the case was still pending.
On April 20, a man attacked a lesbian couple in front of their child outside their home in Tbilisi. The attacker, a neighbor, insulted them and demanded they move out of the building. The attacker then spat on them, continued with homophobic insults, and threatened the couple with a knife. Police arrested the man, who was released on bail on April 23 and was allowed to return to their shared apartment building. LGBTQI+ activists cited the case as an example of the government not taking LGBTQI+ hate crimes seriously. In June the case was referred for trial to Tbilisi City Court; as of year’s end, the trial continued.
The Public Defender’s Office received 10 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation and seven cases based on gender identity. Of these cases, 16 were being investigated by the Internal Affairs Ministry. In one of the cases, the claimant alleged refusal of service based on homophobic motives. On July 6, a private company refused to prepare a seal for the organization, The Network of a European Person’s Rights. The claimant also said that an employee of the company, who was preparing the mold of the seal, used degrading and insulting language towards the LGBTQI+ community. When the claimant told the employee the name of the organization, the latter started insulting the Tbilisi Pride event, praising Levan Vasadze – a businessman and far-right political leader – and speaking about the July 5 violence. The Public Defender’s Office was reviewing the case.
In a high profile case, in 2019 the Ministry of Internal Affairs charged one person for making death threats based on sexual orientation after he threatened an individual who made public statements against homophobia on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia. In July the case was referred for trial to Batumi City Court. As of December the trial had not commenced.
The law requires gender confirmation surgery for legal gender-identity change and does not provide options for transgender individuals who do not wish to undergo confirmation surgery to change their gender identity.