Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia), as a non-partisan, Tbilisi-based non-governmental organization, sees the need to complement the information being circulated about the events of November 7, 2007 in Tbilisi, Georgia. TI Georgia is able to provide a first hand account of the government’s dispersal of the opposition-led protests that had been ongoing since November 2, 2007.
Yesterday, TI Georgia witnessed the violent dispersal of protesters. The government has responded that the dispersal of the protesters was necessary because Rustaveli Avenue was closed in front of Parliament and that heavy force was used because of the protesters’ aggression. The level of violence used was inappropriate to the situation. Police officers and riot police not only violently dispersed the protesters, who were unarmed and varied in age and gender, but continued to pursue them down side streets and into shops and other buildings. Local television stations showed people being punched, kicked, and beaten with batons as they were running away, on the ground, or already subdued by other officers. An excessive amount of tear gas was used by the riot police. According to official numbers, 508 people were hospitalized due to their injuries and at least 100 remain hospitalized the next day.
Starting November 2, 2007, the demonstrators came with four demands: (1) conduct parliamentary elections in spring 2008, instead of late 2008; (2) create new election administrations with representatives from political parties; (3) change the current majoritarian election system – a first-past-the-post, winner takes all system; and (4) release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. For the first five days of the protests, the opposition leaders emphasized the peaceful nature of the demonstration and their commitment to constitutional processes. The lack of an adequate response from the government, however, aggravated the situation and protestors increased their demands, eventually calling for Saakashvili’s resignation.
These calls for resignation have been interpreted by the government as an attempted coup. In the afternoon of November 7th, the government provided television stations with taped cell phone conversations beginning in 2005. The conversations were between various opposition leaders, their relatives, and, ostensibly, Russian spies. The government used this information to assert that opposition leaders were serving Russia’s interests. However, the material provided little information and was largely interpreted as a late attempt to discredit the opposition leaders and incite infighting among the recent coalition of opposition parties. Most importantly, the information revealed on the taped conversations in no way provided justification for the government’s excessive use of force against the protesters, especially when this evidence comes after the initial attack.
Throughout the day, journalists were vulnerable to attack. Many journalists, both local and international, have reported being physically assaulted by the riot police and regular police force and have had their equipment and material confiscated or broken. A little before 9 p.m. on November 7th, Imedi TV, the most popular television station in the country, and Kavkasia TV, went off the air. Before losing the signal, Imedi’s anchorman reported that the riot police had surrounded the building and were entering. At approximately 10:30 p.m., Prime Minister Noghaideli declared a state of emergency and subsequent restriction on the dissemination of information. When the government was asked why TV stations had been taken off the air, the response was that it was a state of emergency, even though the two channels had gone off air at least 90 minutes before the announcement of a state of emergency. Just as other TV stations are now complying with the order to not broadcast news, so could Imedi and Kavkasia have complied.
Transparency International Georgia believes that access to information is a key instrument in the fight against corruption, the promotion of government accountability, and the creation of democratic institutions. It is paramount that democratic methods are used to establish institutions in Georgia and that the process by which the Georgian state is built has public approval.
Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia) is a national chapter of Transparency International, the global civil society organization leading the fight against corruption. TI Georgia was established on 7 May 2000 as a local non-governmental organization committed to combating corruption in Georgia through the promotion of transparency and accountability. Our mission is to serve as the primary source of information on corruption reform in Georgia, assist the Georgian Government and the broader public in facilitating reform in sectors where corruption exists, and build and strengthen institutions. To fulfill this mission, TI Georgia: establishes programmatic activities that target structural corruption in specific sectors; promotes access of local populations to information on existing problems and changes initiated to address these problems; encourages input on reform from local and international experts; assists the Government in drafting policy; and produces analysis and public policy recommendations on current activities and on future reform.
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