Statement of Civil Society Organizations on the possible involvement of State Security Service in the events of July 5-6
The signatory organizations respond to the news story aired by TV Pirveli on June 12. The story describes the alleged involvement of the State Security Service (SSS) employees in the planning and execution of the violent events of July 5. The mass violence on July 5, 2021, was considered to be an exceptional case of police inactivity and the demonstrative state’s passivity in protecting journalists and activists. However, the information released on June 12 prompts an even more dangerous and disturbing assumption that it may be the SSS that stands behind the planning and management of that mass violence.
The news story aired by TV Pirveli alerts the audience that investigative journalists obtained secret internal correspondence of allegedly SSS employees. The correspondence exposed the special mobilization of the agency's employees to manage the process on July 5 and the redistribution of specific tasks to prepare for violent actions. As indicated, the correspondence confirms that per instructions of the senior SSS officials, employees were tasked to mobilize people to the specific time and places (including Vake Park, Mziuri, and Marjanishvili Square) and to deploy them to pre-selected locations. The correspondence disclosed the homophobic attitudes of the SSS employees and their satisfaction with the violence.
Media footage of July 5 confirms the evident organized nature of the various attacks on journalists and activists during the ‘March on Dignity’. The organizers of the violence expressly called upon the counter-rally participants to storm designated locations (including the invasion of the offices of ‘Shame Movement’ and ‘Tbilisi Pride’). Furthermore, members of the violent group were mobilized beforehand to the places where due to security risks, targeted activists were relocated. Besides, the video footage of the online media outlet Publika depicts the inactivity of the police in detaining the perpetrators of the violence. Moreover, the footage shows that one of the organizers of the counter-rally, Konstantine Morgoshia, alongside the other members of the group, was given the access to the building where the 'Shame Movement' has its office located by police forces, with the agenda to make sure that no one was present in the building’s communal hallway and the office itself.
On July 5, 2021, right-wing extremists, through pre-organized violence, that was accompanied by apparent inaction by the state, prevented a 'March of Dignity' arranged by ‘Tbilisi Pride’ and other civic/activist groups. March was planned to take place on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi. Consequent to deliberate retaliation by members of violent groups, 53 media representatives were injured on July 5. The cameraman of TV Pirveli, Lekso Lashkarava, who was among the victims of brutal violence while performing his professional duties on July 5, was found dead at his home on July 11. The members of the far-right group bombarded the offices of the activist organizations ‘Shame Movement’ and ‘Tbilisi-Pride’. They also damaged broadcasting equipment.
The investigative bodies have yet to determine the responsibility of the perpetrators of the mass violence, even after almost a year has passed since the events of July 5. Law enforcement agencies have not yet investigated the facts of the encroachment upon the right to assembly (Article 161 of the Criminal Code). Inactivity of the investigation into the initiation of criminal proceedings against the alleged perpetrators of the violence and the refusal to provide the victims with access to the case materials, reinforce suspicions of a lack of political will. The statement of the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, on the morning of July 5, further supports this suspicion. The PM noted that 95% of the population is against the propagandist ‘March of Dignity’ and that holding such March is ‘inappropriate’; moreover, Gharibashvili stated that it is the ‘radical opposition’ who stands behind the March.
Tolerating mass violence against journalists/activist groups, demonstratively ineffective prevention and the investigation becomes more straightforward and understandable in the context where SSS personnel may be directly involved in planning these processes.
Conducting an ineffective investigation of the July 5 violent attacks on over 50 journalists and media representatives is one of the central issues raised by the European Parliament in its resolution on granting the Georgia EU candidate country status. Meaning that conducting effective investigations into these cases and prosecuting the organizers is a precondition to be fulfilled by our country in the European integration process.
Tolerating the mass violence against media representatives and activist groups, and even more so the negative participation of the state in this process, creates a hefty sense of insecurity and distrust of state institutions in our society. Of particular concern is that the agenda of the organizers of the violent rally is openly and undisguisedly linked to the Kremlin's policies and support. The loyalty shown by the state towards such groups and their possible instrumentalization raises additional broader political suspicions.
The signatory organizations highlight the demonstrative ineffectiveness of SSS in preventing violent extremism and propaganda promoted by the pro-Russian political and media. SSS does not pin down Putinist media and political actors and their funding sources even via its annual reports. In raising public awareness and combating propaganda, disclosing such information is of utmost importance. Besides, SSS has not developed an informational policy to deal with Russian propaganda. In turn, it means identifying political and media actors supporting the occupier state, classifying their narratives and disinformation, and taking retaliatory information measures. Although the state has adopted a strategy to deal with violent extremism, it does not have an adequate plan and policy for monitoring and preventing the activities of such groups.
The chain of events related to the July 5-6 incidents and the institutional setbacks of SSS activities call into question the resilience of the security system as a whole and creates the abusive practice of political instrumentalization of the most crucial link for national security. To respect the rule of law and law and order, as well as to build basic public confidence in security systems, it is essential:
The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia and the Special Investigation Service:
- Initiate/ensure timely, effective, and independent investigation of current facts;
- Immediately apply legal mechanisms against organizers of violence on July 5-6;
- Provide the public with information on the progress and results of the investigation.
The Parliament of Georgia:
- Use all possible parliamentary oversight mechanisms to verify the effectiveness and legitimacy of the Executive's activities on July 5-6, including investigating these events and obtaining information on the measures taken by the SSS to monitor the activities of pro-Russian groups from a security perspective and to combat violent extremism.
The signatory organizations:
Social Justice Center
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)
The Human Rights Center (HRC)
International Society for Fair Elections And Democracy (ISFED)
Transparency International -Georgia
Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA)
Democracy Research Institute (DRI)