GEO

The Challenges That Female Public Figures Face in Georgia

05 November, 2019

 

The subject of women's social life and participation in politics has recently been widely discussed in the public. The majority of the population in Georgia hold a positive view on women’s participation in public life. According to public opinion polls, 65% of Georgians support the introduction of a mandatory gender quota in the parliament.[1]

Blackmailing with the threat of releasing private recordings has become a part of Georgian politics, as well as threats to life and health through social networks and emails. Victims of such psychological terror are, in most cases, politically and socially active women. The purpose of this is not only to intimidate a particular person, but to also serve as a warning message to all active women whose critical opinions or public activism go against the interests of influential individuals.

Important legislative changes have been adopted in recent years to strengthen women's rights, including through the efforts of the Gender Equality Council of the Parliament of Georgia. However, from a legal point of view, the progress loses its value if there is no effective response from the state and the ruling political groups on the instances of psychological terror against women on the basis of their political and public activism and critical positions.

It is for this reason that we have decided to once again remind the public of the crimes against active women and cases of attempted psychological terror against them:

Private life recordings released in 2016

On March 11, 2016, secretly recorded videos were released that depicted the intimate private life of a politician who was critical of the government. Specific individuals could be identified in the footage. To ensure widespread dissemination of the recordings, media representatives were sent links from obscure social network accounts.

On March 14, another video depicting the private life of four politicians and four socially active individuals was released. The video contained threats and blackmail in address of the individuals mentioned in the video, calling on them to resign from their positions until March 31.

There was public outcry following the release of the videos. The “This Affects You” campaign, which brings together dozens of NGOs, held a protest on March 19, 2016. The NGOs also demanded that the authorities take responsibility for disseminating footage depicting private life and to effectively investigate the case, in parallel to carrying out preventive measures.

On March 15, 2016, the Gender Equality Council of the Parliament of Georgia responded to the release of secretly recorded footage and called on all relevant agencies to timely investigate and punish those responsible by the full extent of the law.

On March 28, 2016, the Public Defender launched a "Time is Ticking" campaign to quickly identify and prosecute those who illegally created, obtained, and disseminated the footage of one of the politicians' private life on March 11 2016, while keeping the public updated on the course and results of the investigation.

Despite widespread public outcry, there was a mixed reaction from the ruling party. For example, then Georgian Dream MPs Tamaz Mechiauri and David Lortkipanidze publicly stated that officials with compromising records had to leave their positions.

The Georgian Dream's chairman and former Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, was unable to recall this high-profile case when asked about it by journalists two years after the incident took place.

According to public information, the Office of the Chief Prosecutor arrested five people, including a former senior official from the Constitutional Security Department, in connection with the secretly recorded videos that were released online. However, the person who has ordered and organized this crime has not been identified and punished.[2]

Attempt to discredit the female defense minister

In 2016, secretly recorded footage was uploaded to the internet with a respective description that it allegedly contained the details of the private life of the Minister of Defense, Tina Khidasheli. It should be noted that Tina Khidasheli was the first and only female Minister of Defense in Georgia. According to Tina Khidasheli, the video contained a footage of intimate relationship between strangers. As she noted, the video was actively circulated and she asked the State Security Service not to remove the video so it wouldn’t become a subject of gossip. The video was removed within minutes. Within months, Tina Khidasheli was replaced as the Minister of Defense by Levan Izoria, the Deputy Head of the Security Service.

It is noteworthy that during the briefing that was held after the release of the secretly recorded footage of private life, the prosecutor's office did not announce that strangers were portrayed in the footage and that the Minister of Defense was not depicted in the video, which in turn contributed to the circulation of incorrect information in the public.

A few years later, Tina Khidasheli noted that the authorities were very concerned about her work, especially on the Western front, and they wanted to do something to discredit her. The perpetrators of the crime have not been charged in this case.

Attempts to intimidate female journalists with secret recordings

Female journalists have also become victims of blackmail with secret recordings of private life.

Inga Grigolia, who is one of the most well-known critical journalists in Georgia and a news presenter for Pirveli TV, said in a live broadcast that she was threatened with public release of secret recordings of her private life if she did not leave the country. Grigolia was one of four recipients of the threatening video that was circulated on March 14, 2016. In response to the threat, the journalist stated that she was not going to give up her professional activities and would fight to the end to bring the video recorder and the author of the threat to be held responsible before the law. According to Inga Grigolia, her blackmail was in the interest of the government. Grigolia has also stated that the footage was taken during the previous government and that she informed the Prosecutor's Office about it.

Like in the case of other video recordings released in March 2016, those that ordered the crime were not identified in this case.

In 2015, Eka Mishveladze, the author and anchor of the Public Broadcaster's political talk show “First Studio”, publicly confirmed reports of surveillance of her and her husband, Alex Petriashvili, who is one of the leaders of an opposition party.

The "This Affects You" campaign, which unites a dozen of NGOs, issued a statement calling on law enforcement to launch an investigation.

On April 12, 2016, another video was released that allegedly featured journalist Tamar Chergoleishvili. Tamar Chergoleishvili, founder of Tabula, noted that she wasn’t in that video.

No one has been charged in the case of intimidating and blackmailing journalists.

Crime committed against a Member of Parliament

On January 28, 2019, videos depicting the private life of MP Eka Beselia were circulated through a social network. Beselia said that moral terror was waged against her. In an open letter, she urged women to come into politics and fight for changing the current situation.

The circulation of Eka Beselia's private life was preceded by her confrontation with the ruling party over the appointment of members of the Supreme Court. As a result of this confrontation, she resigned from her position and later left the ruling party.

Politicians responded to the dissemination of the secret recordings. Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze called the public disclosure of the video as immoral, and vowed to pursue the case. The President of Georgia called on law enforcement agencies to conduct a timely and effective investigation. The Georgian Dream faction issued a statement in solidarity with Eka Beselia and demanded an immediate response to be made on the case. The Gender Equality Council of the Georgian Parliament has condemned the use of such methods as a tool to discredit female politicians.

Despite the words of solidarity, there have mixed reactions even among politicians. For example, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze noted that no one had seen the footage, so he would wait for the results of the investigation before making a comment.

The dissemination of footage depicting the private life of a member of parliament has also sparked protests from the civil society sector. Non-governmental organizations participating in the "This Affects You Too" campaign assessed the dissemination of footage depicting private life as an attempt to intimidate a critical part of society. The women's movement said in a statement that the misogynic culture punishes politically or socially active women in this way, and that those who want to come into politics are intimidated; Manipulating personal life, including sex life, or publicizing it, is the most brutal method of forcing women out of politics, their moral discrediting and total marginalization.

The Public Defender of Georgia responded to the incident, noting that blackmailing with the use of secret recordings of private life has become a systematic problem, and that it is gender-motivated, targeting mainly female politicians.

Despite protests from politicians and the public, the investigation has so far failed to identify the culprit. Sixteen people have been charged in connection with the case, but the person who ordered and organized the crime has not been charged. The victim herself suspects that Vano Zardiashvili may have been involved in the spread of the footage. It is noteworthy that on September 26, 2019, Vano Zardiashvili insulted Eka Beselia at a session of the Committee on Legal Affairs, where the candidates for Supreme Court membership were discussed and mentioned her morality in an ironic context, to which Eka Beselia responded by slapping Vano Zardiashvili.

On September 27, the women's movement held a "No Psychological Terror" rally in support of Eka Beselia. Despite differences in political affiliation, Eka Beselia had support expressed to her by female politicians, including UNM MP Tina Bokuchava and Majority Vice-Speaker Tamar Chugoshvili. However, there were also exceptions among female politicians. Sopio Kiladze, chairman of the Human Rights Committee, expressed outrage only because a female MP had insulted a member of parliament. The Minister of Infrastructure Maya Tskitishvili noted several months ago that it was already tiring to talk about Eka Beselia's personal life. The minister was publicly criticized for the statement, though she does not think that her statement was unethical.

It is noteworthy that the Gender Equality Council of the Parliament of Georgia has not made a statement about the incident at the Legal Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Georgia and Vano Zardiashvili’s attempt to discredit Eka Beselia.

On September 30, 2019 MP Eka Beselia informed the Prosecutor's Office that four members of the ruling team, one male and three females, were threatened with having their private life recordings released.

Threats against a presidential candidate

During the 2018 presidential election, presidential candidate Salome Zourabichvili announced that she had received threatening voice messages on November 9, 10 and 11. As the presidential candidate noted, the perpetrators were former military men who threatened to kill her and her children.

Salome Zourabichvili also addressed NGOs and called on them to state their position. Earlier, representatives of women's rights organizations criticized Salome Zourabichvili for her indifference to women's rights. During the pre-election period, she did not attend a meeting organized by the Women's Movement to discuss gender issues.

The non-governmental sector responded to the threats against the presidential candidate and called on the MIA to conduct a timely and effective investigation of the case.

It is noteworthy that the ruling party has never responded to threats against socially active women on the same scale as with Salome Zourabichvili's case. Speaking at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Vice-Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia Tamar Chugoshvili stated that the election campaign was full of hatred and harassment against the female presidential candidate Salome Zourabichvili.

Investigation has been launched into the threats made against the presidential candidate. According to the lawyer, the person that was identified by the MIA turned out to be a member of a military unit fighting in Ukraine. One person has been charged in the case.

Numerous threats against the Public Defender

The Public Defender of Georgia, Nino Lomjaria, was repeatedly threatened with murder.

In 2018, the Public Defender publicly announced that she had been threatened with a sniper rifle and was referred to with obscene words. She also published the respective messages and requested the Ministry of Internal Affairs to launch an investigation.

The Public Defender's Office said in a statement on June 17, 2019, that the Public Defender was threatened with murder on the Internet. The threat was preceded by the Patriarchate's appeal to the authorities not to allow Tbilisi Pride to take place, after which the Public Defender called on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to ensure freedom of peaceful expression in the country. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has launched an investigation into the threats, but no results have been yet achieved to date.

Threat against Executive Director of Transparency International Georgia

Eka Gigauri, Executive Director of Transparency International Georgia, has received repeated death threats. Such cases were particularly frequent in the pre-election period.

On October 13, 2018, Transparency International Georgia's Executive Director received an aggressive message from a specific citizen, which, along with profanity, threatened her with violence. Threatening messages have intensified since senior government officials, including the Chairperson of the Parliament, launched attacks on the third sector. It is noteworthy that the perpetrator used exactly the same phrase that the former Chairperson used against NGOs when they were described as "accomplices to fascism." Eka Gigauri also addressed the law enforcement agencies to launch an investigation, but the culprit has not been identified.

Threats and violence against female members of the High Council of Justice

Ana Dolidze and Nazi Janezashvili are non-judge members of the High Council of Justice, who openly oppose the court clan and injustices within the judicial system. It is for this reason that they have repeatedly become victims of assaults by male members of the High Council of Justice, as well as victims of threats made through the social network.

On April 2, 2018, Anna Dolidze and Nazi Janezashvili accused HCOJ judge-member Sergo Metopishvili of threatening them. Sergo Metopishvili threatened the female members of the HCOJ that their critical statements could be considered as a criminal violation. On January 20, 2018, Nazi Janezashvili made a statement about the obscene remarks made by her male colleagues. It should be noted that former Supreme Court Chairman Nino Gvenetadze also spoke about bullying and violence against female members of the High Council of Justice. She said members of the High Council of Justice were trying to reach a ruling against the will of the Supreme Court chairman. On August 2, 2018, Nino Gvenetadze resigned, citing health reasons.

Members of the High Council of Justice were also harassed and threatened through social networks. On January 18, 2019, Ana Dolidze announced that she had received a threatening message on social media, "You can leave this city until you die," the threatening message read.

No investigation has been launched into any threats against the female members of the High Council of Justice.

It is clearly not possible to list in a single publication all the instances when socially and politically active women were subject to blackmail and threats. These cases highlight the severity and magnitude of the problem. In all of the aforementioned cases, attacks and intimidation of politically and socially active women were preceded by their critical expression, stance, and confrontation with politically influential individuals. Blackmailing and threatening to destroy personal life are tools of moral terror that endangers not only individuals but the political and social activity of women in general.

The state does not fight crime effectively and responds to blackmail only due to public pressure. Statements by individual government officials sometimes promote stereotyping and marginalization of victims of blackmail. The frequency and scale of the moral terror and the ineffectiveness of the state response is a message to active women that being socially and politically active comes at a cost.

 

This blog was prepared with the financial assistance of the Swedish Development Agency (Sida)


[1] NDI, Public Opinion Research in Georgia, July 2019 Poll Results, see: https://bit.ly/2o7rwBN

[2] The results of the law enforcement responses provided in this publication were obtained from publicly available sources.

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