The messenger logo

Human Freedom Index and political prisoners in Georgia – an unlikely co-existence?

By Veronika Malinboym
Monday, December 21
According to a recent report, Georgia ranks 40th in the world in the Human Freedom Index 2020, leading in the South Caucasus and Central Asia region with a total score of 7.87 out of 10.

The overall score of Human Freedom is based on the country’s residents’ freedom of religion, expression, and identity, as well as the rule of law, size and diversity of the government, labor, and trade regulations, and the general safety and security of the citizens.

Georgia has now been named as a region’s leader in terms of the Human Freedom Index for two consecutive years. However, one can also note just how many challenges are still lying ahead.

The most prominent of all – and the most well-known too – is the alleged unlawful detention of political prisoners. Among them is Giorgi Rurua – co-founder of Mtavari Arkhi TV Channel, who has recently been attacked by two convicts in the penitentiary N8, where he is currently detained. As a result of this attack, two prison employees were charged with negligence and have been denied bail. The case of Rurua has attracted a lot of attention – from the predictable outrage among the country’s opposition parties to the NGOs, dip corps’ and even foreign politicians’ outcry.

But who is Giorgi Rurua, and what makes his case so controversial?

Giorgi Rurua is a co-founder and a shareholder of the opposition-minded TV Channel, Mtavari Arkhi. On November 18 2018 he was arrested and charged with illegal purchasing, storing and carrying of firearms, and was sentenced to four years in prison on December 25. To this day, the court ruling is subject to widespread controversy, and the calls for his release continue to be voiced.

Shortly after the sentence was announced, 20 opposition parties signed a joint memorandum, which protested the court decision, and claimed that the release of Giorgi Rurua was a part of the March 8 agreement between the government and the opposition parties. Moreover, it was because of Rurua’s arrest that the opposition bloc refused to vote for the constitutional changes prior to the March 8 agreement. In turn, the ruling Georgian Dream party stated that the pardon of Rurua was never discussed as a condition of the March agreement – a statement that was later confirmed by the German ambassador to Georgia.

Due to the government’s persistent denial of discussing Rurua’s release with the opposition parties, as well as refusing to either pardon him or accept that his arrest was in any way politically motivated, the local and international NGOs, as well as members of the US Congress and the European Parliament have voiced their own concerns about the case and the legitimacy of Rurua’s detention.

Earlier this year, Transparency International Georgia compiled an Amicus Curiae brief on Giorgi Rurua’s case, where it stated that the legal procedures of his arrest, detention, and court hearings were violated on numerous occasions: at the time of detention, Rurua was not provided with an adequate opportunity to contact his lawyer or family members, forensic examinations and personal searches did not oblige by the Code of Criminal Procedure ( thus, the findings of the forensic examinations fail to provide meaningful evidence of Rurua’s connection with the firearms), and the aggravation of the sentence on the grounds of Rurua’s refusal to voluntarily provide saliva samples and fingerprints was also found groundless ( as the privilege against self-incrimination is granted by the Constitution of Georgia).

As of today, various local NGOs and INGOs have issued joint statements calling for Rurua’s release, and a few high-ranking politicians, including the US Senator Jim Risch and Jeanne Shaheen, have addressed President Zurabishvili to release Giorgi Rurua, who is still detained on “spurious charges”.

The case of Giorgi Rurua is more than an indicator of a faultiness in the county’s judiciary system. Unfortunately, it is a symbol of the challenges the country must overcome to become a shining example of a sustainable, healthy Democracy, both in the region and in the international arena. While the high Human Freedom Index score is more than welcome and does not fall short of causing an immense pride for the progress that has already been made, it should also serve as an example of what it is yet to be achieved to progress even further.

The ruling party has announced a large-scale amnesty, that will concern the non-serious crimes committed prior to December 11 2020. Although the Head of the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee of the ruling party, Mikheil Sarjveladze, has already claimed that it is not likely to extend to the Rurua’s case, there is still some hope that amidst the global pandemic and the political crisis that the country is now faced with, the government will choose to move forward, rather than down below, into deeper uncertainty.