Several days ago, messages containing threats of physical annihilation of members of NGO Identoba, and its former executive director, Irakli Vacharadze, were released in social network in response to the comments Vacharadze made with regard to the Christmas epistle of the Patriarch of Georgia.
Georgian Non-governmental organizations and the Public Defender of Georgia denounced the reaction to Vacharadze’s comments as the act against not only the Identoba, but also against the right to free speech which is guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia. They called on the government of Georgia to ensure the safety of members of Identoba and its former executive director and to conduct investigation into those threats.
Against this backdrop, a matter of serious concern is the statement of Deputy Minister of Diaspora Issues Sandro Bregadze, which he made about Irakli Vacharadze on January 8th. In particular, comparing Vacharadze to the group of terrorists whose armed attack took lives of 12 people in Paris, Bregadze said: "From now on Vacharadze may be seen as the one having joined the ranks of extremist terrorists fighting against Christianity.” Comparing the civil activist because of his opinions with the group of armed terrorists is an irresponsible action on the part of the public official and a behavior that is absolutely inappropriate for a public official in a democratic society.
The threats from representatives of radical extremist groups, on the one hand, and on the other, the above cited statement of the government representative and the failure of other public officials to react to it may be perceived as a tacit approval and open encouragement of such threats and violence that may follow it.
We believe that public officials and representatives of those institutions, whose acts are a matter of public interest, must refrain from statements which may condone, and encourage intolerance towards dissenting opinions. Honoring the freedom of speech by public officials is one of most important values because democracy relies upon plurality of opinions, and the government is obliged to defend the freedom of expression.
We appeal to you to reconsider whether keeping Sandro Bregadze on his position is still appropriate. Let us remind you that the deputy minister made offensive and intimidating statements in late 2014, and they were not followed by an adequate reaction on the part of the government. The failure of the government to react to Bregadze’s public statements, that incited hatred, may be interpreted as tolerating them, which ultimately make the government responsible for them.
Media Development Foundation, MDF
Georgian Democracy Initiative, GDI
Georgian Young Lawyers Association, GYLA
Tolerance and Diversity Institute, TDI
Transparency International Georgia, TI
Georgian Reforms Association, GRASS
European Centre for Minority Issues, ECMI
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, EMC
Constitution Article 42
Institute of Nonviolent Communication, INC