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GDI: Social Services Agency considers homophobic posts a constitutional right to disseminate information

By Nika Gamtsemlidze
Thursday, October 3
Public servants and internal auditors in some cases think that sharing posts on social media with homophobic content is a constitutional right of expression, according to the Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI). GDI reported about it in a study “Hate Speech in Public Service.”

GDI writes about social service agency employee Ketino Kvitsiani, who shared an abusive video and text on social networking activist Anna Subeliani. In addition, other comments were made on her page that included offensive comments about the LGBTQ+ community.

According to the GDI, the case was examined by an internal audit of the Social Service Agency and found that there were insufficient grounds for disciplinary proceedings. According to GDI, the Commission's arguments were as follows: 1. Kvitsiani herself is not the author of shared posts, so her action should be seen not as a form of expression that promotes discrimination against sexual minorities, but as a constitutional right to freely receive and share information. 2. The law of Georgia on public service cannot be applied to an agency employee, which in turn precludes the dissemination of ethical norms approved by government resolution #200.

The GDI says it is welcomed that the agency, on its own initiative, has investigated the relevance of Kvitsiani's actions to the so-called anti-discrimination law, however, the information provided reveals several gaps and uncertainties. Namely: Failure to apply the rules established by the Law on Public Service to persons employed by the LEPL does not automatically mean non-compliance with the Code of Conduct prescribed by the Government. Also, The GDI claims that the agency misunderstands the notion of indirect discrimination.

The organization says the agency's perception of freedom of expression is also wrong. The organization says it is unclear why the agency does not call their actions disciplinary proceeding and instead argues that the basis for disciplinary proceedings is not clear.

The same report reads that Guram Kobakhidze, an employee of the LEPL Municipal Development Fund of Georgia, also shared a post containing hate speech and homophobic posts on his page. According to them, they were informed from the Fund that disciplinary proceedings had been carried out and no misconduct was found.

According to the organization, Kobakhidze did not deny posting such content, saying he had not violated anything. He also said that GDI violated his “freedom of expression” and the privacy of his “personal information”.

According to the organization, the Commission did not find any violation of ethical norms by the following arguments: 1. The controversial post was not written by Guram Kobakhidze, he only shared it, which does not automatically mean that he agrees with the text and image in the post; 2. The shared post is not enough to question the impartial actions of Kobakhidze, and the fact that he does his job fairly has been confirmed during his many years of work in the Fund.

The GDI states that a violation of ethical norms does not mean that there is a reason to believe that such an act must necessarily call into question the impartial exercise of that person's authority. According to them, in this case, the failure of the Commission to take disciplinary action on these grounds is unlikely to be in line with legislative regulation.

According to the study, despite the findings, the commission recommended that Guram Kobakhidze, as well as other staff members, read the ethical norms prescribed by the government to avoid violating the rules in the future.

The survey was conducted from September 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, and the organization investigated the public statements of employees of public agencies.

The presentation of the report was held on October 2, 2019. The research was carried out within the framework of the United Nations Association of Georgia (UNAG) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) 's Tolerance, Civic Awareness and Integration Support (PITA) program.

Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI) is an independent, non-governmental, non-profit-making organization dedicated to research, analysis, and education to advance the country’s democratic development and Euro-Atlantic integration. The organization brings together high-level professionals with an extensive record of research, advocacy and monitoring work in the key areas of GDI operation.