Georgian Authorities Must Protect Freedom of Expression

While the Georgian local elections on 2 October were well-administered and contestants could campaign freely, the election process was tainted by widespread allegations of threats against journalists, vote-buying and the arrest of the country’s former president Mikheil Saakashvili. As Georgians head to the polls once again on 30 October for the second round of voting, we urge the authorities to guarantee that freedom of expression is protected. 

Although the local elections in Georgia on 2 October were well-administered and political contestants could campaign freely, the election process was tainted by widespread allegations of threats against journalists, vote-buying and the arrest of the country’s former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who returned to Georgia to support the opposition after living in Ukraine.  

The country’s ruling party, the Georgian Dream, won the elections with 47 % of the votes. Since none of the candidates in Tbilisi and four other cities got an absolute majority of votes, a second round of voting will be held on 30 October.  

Georgia’s media landscape is highly polarized, mirroring the political situation. The legal framework for media provides a solid foundation for ensuring freedom of expression, but the recent cases of threats against journalists and lack of appropriate investigations into these cases raise serious concerns about the state of freedom of expression in the country.  

According to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, multiple journalists have reported an increase in aggressive political rhetoric against the media. A number of court cases involving owners of government-critical media were resumed during the election campaign, which OSCE suggested were designed to prompt judicial pressure on critical media. In light of these developments, Civil Rights Defenders urges the Georgian authorities to guarantee that freedom of expression is protected during the upcoming elections. 

“The media must be allowed to function in a free and safe environment. Georgian authorities should take the necessary steps to ensure that journalists can continue their work without facing threats. Freedom of expression must be protected”, says Ana Furtuna, Eurasia Director at Civil Rights Defenders. 

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