BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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Black Roses - Georgia's Reformers Fall Out
HITS: 31056 | 20-02-2008, 05:03 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Political leaders

Exactly four years after the so-called Rose Revolution, the two key leaders of Georgia's People Power revolution are at each other's throats.

Georgia has made stunning progress in carrying out substantial economic, judicial and state reforms… that should allow Georgia to become a prosperous liberal market economy and a fully-fledged democracy governed by human rights and the rule of law. Georgia has set an example for the whole region and beyond.”
Council of Europe reporters Matyas Eorsi & Kastriot Islami
(13 September 2007)[1]

" The style of Saakashvili’s governance … has made dishonesty, injustice and oppression a way of life. Everyday repression, demolition of houses and churches, robbery, ‘kulakization’, and murders, I would stress, murders, have become common practice for the authorities.”
Ex-Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili in Tbilisi
(25th September, 2007)[2]

On Friday 2nd November, 2007, the centre of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, was occupied a huge crowd demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili.[3] It was exactly four years since Saakashvili had cried foul about Georgia’s parliamentary elections and set in train the protests which brought him to power on 23rd November, 2003.

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The case of Sulkhan Molashvili
HITS: 3263 | 21-12-2005, 23:40 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Political leaders

BHHRG interviewed Sulkhan Molashvili in the Deputy-Governor’s office in the hospital wing of Prison No. 5 (formerly No1) c. 5.00 - 6.45 pm, 29th July, 2005.

The facts surrounding the trial of Sulkhan Molashvili are a perfect illustration of the ‘black hole’ that is Georgia’s legal and penitentiary system today. Only the tenacity and perseverance of Mr. Molashvili’s lawyers and the work of one local NGO, “Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights”, have brought the abuses into the open. When BHHRG’s representatives asked to see Mr. Molashvili while visiting Prison No. 1. in April 2005 they were told that “he didn’t want to see them”. The following chronology contains facts generally agreed by all parties, Mr. Molashvili’s lawyers’ account of events leading up to his trial and Mr. Molashvili’s own version of events described to BHHRG during an interview conducted on 29th July, 2005 in the prison hospital. The Group wishes to thank the trial judge who granted permission for the interview and the prison authorities who vacated their offices and who did not impose restraints or a time limit on the meeting.

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Georgia 2005: Law and Disorder
HITS: 2223 | 21-12-2005, 23:35 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Analyzing, Global Events

Attacks on the Judiciary

The legal system in Georgia has been tinkered with on numerous occasions since independence. In 1999 a new system of exams was introduced which had to be taken by both new and serving judges. Judges told BHHRG at the time that this was a way of sacking people who offended the government.
Perhaps, observers assumed that Mikheil Saakashvili’s legal training would impact positively on the rule of law, but, according to observers: “The level of justice has seriously deteriorated since the rose revolution”. Lawyers told BHHRG that Sakkashvili knew nothing about the nuts and bolts of Georgian law - his courses in the US were most likely the typical, content-less melange of ‘modules’ in subjects like human rights and international justice.

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Georgia 2005: Opposition Politics
HITS: 2509 | 21-12-2005, 23:28 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Media World, PR and human rights

The Media: Soon after Saakashvili became president three late night discussion programmes were pulled from Imedi, Mze and Rustavi 2 television channels. Later, 2 independent TV stations – Iberia and the Ninth Channel – were closed. Action was taken by the authorities according to the (much decried) Russian method of charging media owners with ‘tax avoidance’. This practice came perilously close to shutting down Rustavi 2 when its owner, Erosi Kitsmanishvili was accused of getting above himself in business deals and Rustavi 2 was said to owe $4.5 m. in back tax to the state.[1] Kitsmanishvili was forced out and replaced with regime insiders. Saakashvili had promised not to let what he called the “channel of the victorious” go down.
Now, most shares in the company are owned by Khibar Khalvashi, a friend of Okruashvili. 50% of the shares in Mze are owned by MP Davit Bezhuashvili, brother of Gela, Secretary of the Georgian National Security Council and another 50% by Vano Chkhartishvili, a former Shevardnadze minister. Mze itself has been censored – it was banned from showing the funerals of dead Georgian troops after the debacle in South Ossetia and, again, was “in trouble” for its reporting following prime minister Zhvania’s death.[2] Its daily talk show was halted following the demonstration over the arrest of wrestlers on 30th June.

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Georgia post rose revolution government: mixed revues
HITS: 2460 | 21-12-2005, 23:20 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Analyzing, Global Events

The new presidential palace in Tbilisi now under construction

“For the first time in our history, our police have discovered you don’t have to torture people to keep crime in check” [Mikheil Saakashvili, Knight Ridder Newspapers, 9th March, 2005].

Police reform: This is hailed as one of Saakashvili’s success stories. The president’s admirers point to the abolition of the traffic cops and their replacement by a new patrol police as one of his major achievements since coming to office. Since then, it is claimed, the practice of regularly stopping motorists for bribes has ceased and the force is able to do more useful work. The police are properly paid (400-500 lari per month), new Volkswagen Passats have been donated and officers wear smart, American-style uniforms. In the process “16,000 good for nothing, corrupt policemen were fired”, according to former Minister of the Interior, Irakli Okruashvili.[1] Only 15% of former police officers remained in the force. This meant that if only some of these men had families, at least 34,000 people were deprived of a bread winner - something that obviously left Mr. Okruashvili and his associates untroubled.

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Mikheil Saakashvili: Power Grab
HITS: 2412 | 21-12-2005, 23:09 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Political leaders, War and peace

 “We call Saakashvili Stalin …he is good, fair and that is why” (a citizen, Imedi TV, 19th February, 2005)

“We had the first televised revolution in history. We were live on CNN for four and a half hours without a commercial” (Saakashvili – Knight Ridder Newspapers, 9th March, 2005)

To describe the November 2003 events in Georgia as a ‘revolution’ indicates a failure to understand the trajectory taken by revolutions in the past. Yet, most Georgians, including those disenchanted by the Saakashvili regime, continue to repeat this oxymoron. As BHHRG pointed out in its report on the November 2003 election[1], the main beneficiaries were all former ministers and leading cadres in the ex-president’s political party. Historically, a revolution has signalled a break: neither Louis XV1’s ministers nor relatives of the Tsar took power after the respective revolutions in France and Russia. People’s failure to notice any improvement in their lives in Georgia since November 2003 may be because the same people are running the country as they did during the 1990s.

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Georgia 2005: Rose Revolutionary Justice
HITS: 2140 | 21-12-2005, 22:50 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Politics, War and peace

Mafia shootouts, harassment of the opposition and media, political prisoners … it’s business as usual in Georgia.
It is nearly two years since the republic of Georgia experienced what became known as a ‘Rose Revolution’. News media around the world heralded this development as the dawn of a new era in which the impoverished former Soviet republic sloughed off a corrupt and moribund regime to embrace young, market-orientated reformers under the leadership of Western-educated Mikhael Saakashvili who was elected the country’s president in January 2004.
A year later, in November 2004, another ‘colour-coded’ revolution took place, this time in Ukraine. Again, the media pointed to Saakashvili and Georgia as the successful model for the latest spontaneous outburst of ‘people power’. The Georgian president was a regular commentator on the stand-off in Kiev offering comradeship and support to his fellow revolutionary, Viktor Yushchenko.

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Georgia 2005: Main Conclusion
HITS: 2081 | 21-12-2005, 00:17 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Analyzing, Global Events

During the 1990s, BHHRG regularly criticized the Shevardnadze regime for human rights abuses and electoral fraud. However, by 2001, this darling of the West was unexpectedly feeling the heat and the message was clear: regime change was in the air. Paradoxically, by this time, some things were improving in Georgia. All political prisoners (mainly supporters of former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia) had been released, the media was free and television, in particular, regularly broadcast exposés of the regime’s perceived wrongdoings. Finally, in 2003, no doubt aware of the vultures circling above, the government conducted clean parliamentary elections for the first time since 1992. Those who repeatedly point to fraud in this poll overlook the fact that by ‘cheating’ the Citizen’s Union (the government party) only claimed 21% support of the electorate. There was no criticism from the West when Mikheil Saakashvili won a Stalin-style 96% of the vote in the presidential election held in January 2004 and, later in March, when the National Movement party won nearly all the seats in parliament.

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Georgia 2005: The Council of Europe
HITS: 2006 | 21-12-2005, 00:09 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Politics

In 1999 BHHRG urged caution when it became clear that Georgia was on course to join the Council of Europe as there were no signs that the shortcomings in Georgia’s human rights record had been addressed. Apologists claimed that membership of the organization would provide much-needed oversight of institutions, like the prison service. In 2002/3 the CoE did conduct an investigation into Georgia’s prisons although its report was ‘sat on’ by the Georgian authorities and only appeared in July, 2005.[1] Although its criticisms of the system are harsh, the medicine prescribed is always tame, namely, more ‘human rights education’ and ‘training’. Nevertheless, many ‘political’ prisoners now in custody in Georgia are pinning their hopes on the outcome of their appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). As well as Molashvili, former Minister of Energy, David Mirtskhulava who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in March 2005 for abuse of power, has launched an appeal to Strasbourg, as has Zurab Chankotadze.
 The CoE’s legal arm, the Venice Commission, has also criticized Georgia over the government’s unilateral reduction of Adjara’s autonomous status as well as the decision not to allow direct election of local mayors, including the powerful post of mayor of Tbilisi. It has also raised the issue of the high (7%) threshold for parties to enter parliament. But, Saakashvili has always treated the CoE with contempt, ever since its previous director-general, Walter Schwimmer, tried to diffuse the row over Adjara’s status and the best way to handle Aslan Abashidze in 2004. BHHRG reported at the time...

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