Georgia: TI Official Fights Back Against Accusations

An escalating war of words over the actions of non-governmental organizations in Georgia has turned towards the courts, as the executive director of Transparency International (TI) Georgia announced that she plans to sue for defamation.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 7.35.16 PMFormer PM Bidzina IvanishviliEka Gigauri of TI said she will sue the director of another Georgian NGO and the former state minister for conflict resolution for claiming she contributed to the violent dispersal of protesters in an anti-government protest in Tbilisi on Nov. 7, 2007.

Gigauri says Guram Adamashvili, director of the NGO Position, and ex-minister Giorgi Khaindrava lied when they publicly accused her of having “personally taken part” in the dispersal. They further claimed she was later rewarded by a promotion after handing out awards to the officials responsible for breaking up the protest.

In early November 2007, Gigauri was an employee of the Border Police when a series of protests against the government of then-President Mikheil Saakashvili were forcefully dispersed by police, resulting in hundreds of injuries.

Saakashvili declared a state of emergency, and shut down all media broadcasts until Nov. 16.

The allegations about Gigauri stem from documents from November 2007 that appear to have come from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. One such document, dated Nov. 14, instructed Gigauri to present awards to 18 border patrol authorities, for excellent border preparation for the winter. On Nov. 21, Gigauri was promoted to captain, according to another document.

In a statement, TI Georgia notes that neither the border police nor Gigauri had any involvement in the November 2007 crackdown. The organization criticizes this and other recent “groundless accusations against NGOs.”  

On Jan. 26, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili had announced the imminent release of  “interesting research” on Gigauri and leaders of other NGOs, including the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA).  

Last Sunday, Khaindrava accused former Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, and Saakashvili of using money from the Swedish International Development Cooperation (SIDA) for politically motivated research and funding of NGOS, instead of its intended target, poverty eradication.

Khaindrava cited a Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet as a source, while Aftonbladet quotes  Khaindrava to back up its story about Bildt and Saakashvili. TI Georgia claims this is the only Swedish media source that has corroborated Khaindrava’s story.

The Embassy of Sweden in Tbilisi released a statement Thursday, denouncing reports that  “misrepresent the activities and goals of Sweden’s development cooperation with Georgia,” and reaffirming its development goals. The embassy also provided a link to OpenAid, a website that graphs Swedish aid distribution since 1998. According to this platform, Sweden provided US$ 5million to Georgian organizations in 2014. Aid funds peaked in 2013, at US$ 27.7million.

On Feb. 2, 46 civil society organizations in Georgia released a statement against the oppression of civil society organizations by government officials, citing Ivanishvili’s announcement and a May 2014 accusation by current Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. Signatories include Open Society Georgia Foundation, Human Rights House Tbilisi and the United Nations Association of Georgia.