“The government seems to have circumvented the legal process” - Freedom House VP on Rustavi 2 Case
12 November, 2015
“The government seems to have circumvented the legal process” - Freedom House VP on Rustavi 2 Case
Freedom House urges the Georgian government to end its interference with the media

Following Tbilisi City Court’s dismissal of the management of television channel Rustavi 2 and the immediate appointment of new executives, the independent watchdog organization Freedom House has made a statement saying the appointment of new management at Rustavi 2 ignores the Constitutional Court’s ruling and undermines democracy in Georgia. The statement also said that the government is breaking the promise it made to voters, which was to
uphold higher standards than its predecessor in protecting the rule of law and the fundamental principles of democracy. Freedom House urged the Georgian government to “End its interference with the media.”

Read the Georgian version of the article on Voice of America website.

In an exclusive interview with Voice of America Georgian Service, the Vice President of the Freedom House Robert Herman said that putting the Rustavi 2 case in a larger context raises questions about not just media freedom, but also about due process. “The government seems to have circumvented the legal process; this abdication of the rule of law is deeply troubling as it seems to be an effort to censor those who are critical of the government,” proclaims Herman.

Speaking about the ownership dispute, Herman says that everybody needs to understand that such disputes don’t take place in a vacuum and are part of larger political environment: “It is common knowledge that Rustavi 2 has been critical of the GD (Georgian Dream) government and what’s happening now seems to be an indication of an effort to censor. This does not apply only to Rustavi 2; when you have statements such as those made in recent weeks that seem to create a generally more hostile environment for those who are critical of the government, they are aimed at creating a so-called chilling effect – at forcing critics to engage in self-censorship. This is what’s most troubling here.”

For Freedom House, which supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world and advocates for democracy and human rights, it is especially disappointing when countries undergoing democratic evolution take a step back:

“For a country like Georgia that has struggled very hard and got where it is now in its democratic evolution, this is a serious setback. The research Freedom House and others have done show that when there are infringements upon the media sector, they often end up as precursors of a deeper and broader backslide as well as erosion of democratic norms and practices.”

Herman is worried that whenever you have circumvention or undermining of due process, there is always concern that it may be the harbinger of the erosion of the rule of law and overstepping the constitutional frame.

Discussing Rustavi 2 as a part of a bigger picture, Herman says the Georgian government is breaking its promises on holding themselves to a higher standard than its predecessors:

“This is exactly why this is so concerning and disappointing for people – they’ve seen commitment both on the part of the government and themselves, holding themselves to higher standards and vowing to improve the situation, deepen commitment to democratic reforms and to move the country forward. And now something like that happens, leaving the people wondering whether this is a harbinger of a broader erosion of fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression and media freedom.”

Another reason for the frustration is Georgia’s democratic evolution in the past, Herman notes:

“Georgia has distinguished itself by making progress in a very difficult sub-region. I think that’s another reason why there is such a disappointment; this is a thing that differentiates us from the other countries of the neighborhood and certainly most of the former Soviet space. And Georgians do not want to compare themselves with Russia or Azerbaijan – they want to compare themselves to democracies in Central and Eastern Europe as well as other more mature democracies around the world. This is the standard that they should not veer away from.”

Herman hopes reactions from the U.S. and many Western governments will be heeded by the Georgian government, as friends of Georgia recognize the serious nature of this transgression of democratic norms and practices as well as the laws in Georgia. “True friends are the ones who will tell you when they think that you are going in a wrong direction; friends feel an obligation to do that,” he adds. He also claims that the Rustavi 2 case will affect Georgia’s freedom ratings. Georgia is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2015, Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2015, Free in Freedom on the Net 2015, and receives a democracy score of 4.64 on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the worst possible score, in Nations in Transit 2015.”

Read the Georgian version of the article on Voice of America website.

By Nana Sajaia, VOA Georgian Service
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