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The News in Brief

Thursday, February 25
Georgia, China Hold First Round of Free Trade Talks

Officials from the Georgian Ministry of Economics and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce held the first round of talks on a free trade agreement between the two countries in Tbilisi on February 22-23.

“We have agreed on a joint goal to complete free trade negotiations by the end of 2016,” Georgia's Deputy Minister of Economics, Genadi Arveladze, told journalists on February 23, adding that meetings between negotiators will be held once every two months.

“We will try to achieve maximum liberalisation of customs duties and taxes for the export of Georgian products to the Chinese market,” he said.

China was Georgia’s fourth largest trading partner in 2015 with a turnover of 712.7 million USD. Exports to China increased by 39.1% y/y to USD 125.8 million last year, mostly due to the export of copper ores and concentrates. Imports from China were down by 19.9% to 586.9 million USD in 2015.

Georgia’s Economic Minister Dimitri Kumsishvili said that Georgia should especially focus on gaining a preferential regime for exporting the Georgian wine and agriculture products to China.

Georgia exported 2.67 million 0.75-liter bottles of wine to China in 2015, up by 122% compared to 2014, according to the National Wine Agency of Georgia. (

MPs do not rule out possible change of ministers

Parliamentary majority members have no concrete information about expected staff changes but MPs do not rule out the replacement of some ministers.

As Eka Beselia has stated, no consultations on the matter have yet been held.

‘We know PM Kvirikashvili said he did not rule out changes in the government; he said he needed more time to make a decision. Nothing is ruled out,’ she said.

MP Ani Mirotadze stated that inter-parliamentary consultations and discussions on the matter have not yet been held, and so no decision on the changes can have been made yet. (IPN)

Annual report by Amnesty International criticises Georgia’s human rights record

Georgia still struggles with issues connected to its justice system, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the rights of LGBT people, as well as cases of torture and other ill-treatment.

Amnesty International (AI) has released the annual report 2015/2016on the state of the world’s human rights.

The organisation noted the significant worsening of global human rights, and writes that ‘the year that saw a global assault on people’s basic freedoms, with many governments brazenly breaking international law and deliberately undermining institutions meant to protect people’s rights’.

AI notes that ‘2015 was a turbulent year in Europe and Central Asia , and a bad one for human rights’.

In a chapter dedicated to Georgia, AI writes that ‘legal battles around the pro-opposition TV channel Rustavi 2 raised concerns over freedom of expression. Allegations of political pressure on the judiciary and selective justice persisted, particularly following the arrest and conviction of a former politician one day after the Constitutional Court ordered his release. In several instances police prevented or limited peaceful gatherings. The investigation of allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials remained slow and ineffective, while a proposal for an independent investigative mechanism was put forward but not yet legislated on’.

AI takes note of the fact that political tensions in Georgia rose due to release of clandestine videos of prison rape from the period when the United National Movement (UNM) was in power and leaked communicationsbetween former president Mikheil Saakashvili and Rustavi 2. A 26% devaluation of the lari against the US dollar increased economic vulnerability for many families. Removal of South Ossetian border posts at the administrative boundary line and detentions of people heightened tensions between the central government and Tskhinvali, while the International Court launched an investigation into the events of the 2008 war.

According to the report, ‘concerns over the fairness of the judiciary, selective justice and politically motivated prosecutions persisted’, which refers to the four-and-a-half-years’ sentence given to former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava following two years’ of pre-trial detention.

AI writes that local NGOs and political commentators raised concerns over the political aspect of the Rustavi 2 dispute.

According to the report, ‘in several instances, policy unduly limited or prevented peaceful gatherings, while on a number of occasions they failed to prevent clashes between political opponents’, bringing up the example of a clash between Georgian Dream supporters and UNM activists and supporters, wherein the former forcibly entered a UNM office in Zugdidi. In June, ahead of the European Games in Baku, police prevented 15 activists from protesting against Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record at Heydar Aliyev Square in Tbilisi.

AI writes that the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) this year had to be marked in secrecy due to the police’s refusal to guarantee the safety of activists unless the rally was a held at a contained and publicly disclosed location. Tbilisi City Court ruled that a man who killed a transgender woman in her own flat was acting in self-defence, convicting him only of arson and battery. In October, Tbilisi City Court acquitted all men charged with attacking the 2013 IDAHOT rally due to ‘insufficient evidence’.

AI takes note of reports of new cases of ill-treatment by law enforcement and the slow and ineffective investigation of alleged abuse by members of the General Inspection of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

As for Georgia’s neighbouring countries, AI writes that in Armenia, ‘largely peaceful protests were repeatedly disrupted, including with the use of excessive force by police, which led to yet more and larger protests. Protest organizers faced arrest and criminal prosecution on questionable charges. An anti-government protester was reported attacked and beaten. Torture and other ill-treatment, and impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators, remained a concern. New provisions for alternative civilian service, introduced into law in 2013, were made available for conscientious objectors’.

In Azerbaijan, 'the crackdown on civil society and persecution of political dissent continued. Human rights organizations remained unable to resume their work. At least 18 prisoners of conscience remained in detention at the end of the year. Reprisals against independent journalists and activists persisted both in the country and abroad, while their family members also faced harassment and arrests. International human rights monitors were barred and expelled from the country. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment persisted’.

In the Russian Federation, ‘freedom of expression and peaceful assembly remained severely restricted. The authorities dominated the print and broadcast media, and further extended their control over the internet. NGOs faced further harassment and reprisals under the “foreign agents” law, while their access to foreign funding was further restricted by a new law banning “undesirable” organizations. Growing numbers of individuals were arrested and criminally charged for criticizing state policy and publicly displaying or possessing materials deemed extremist or otherwise unlawful under vague national security legislation. Four people faced prosecution under the2014 law that made repeated violations of the law on public assemblies a criminal offence. Deep flaws in the judicial system were further exposed through several high profile cases; a new law gave the Constitutional Court the authority to overrule decisions by the European Court of Human Rights. Refugees faced numerous obstacles in accessing international protection. Serious human rights violations continued in the North Caucasus, and human rights defenders reporting from the region faced harassment’.

In Turkey, ‘the human rights situation deteriorated markedly following parliamentary elections in June and the outbreak of violence between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish armed forces in July. The media faced unprecedented pressure from the government; free expression online and offline suffered significantly. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly continued to be violated. Cases of excessive use of force by police and ill-treatment in detention increased. Impunity for human rights abuses persisted. The independence of the judiciary was further eroded. Separate suicide bombings attributed to the armed group Islamic State (IS) targeting left-wing and pro-Kurdish activists and demonstrators killed 139 people. An estimated 2.5 million refugees and asylum-seekers were accommodated in Turkey but individuals increasingly faced arbitrary detention and deportation as the government negotiated emigration deal with the EU’. (DF watch)