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Posted on: 24 Jan 2024

INFORMATION INTEGRITY COALITION REACTS TO THE ATTACKS ON CSOS

Targeted attacks on civil organizations by the Georgian government and ruling party leaders continue. Recently, the statements made by high political officials are aimed at discrediting the organizations that fight against disinformation and work on election issues and human rights. Given that elections are planned in the country this year, such campaigns and the use of important issues for political manipulation are especially dangerous.

On January 20, the Speaker of the Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, held a special briefing in the Parliament, where he attacked Beka Mindiashvili, the head of the Tolerance Center at the Office of the Public Defender. At this briefing, the Chairman of the Parliament made a discrediting statement regarding the "Soviet Past Research Laboratory" (SovLab) and "Civic Idea".

Instrumentalization of religious topics and history, disinformation, declaring human rights defenders and representatives of civil society organizations as enemies of the state, religion and church are practices characteristic of non-democratic states, further increasing the degree of polarization in society and containing the risks of confronting people on religious grounds. In the conditions when the Patriarchate of Georgia considered it inadvisable to leave the icon depicting Stalin in the church in its current form and took appropriate measures, the government's attack against the organizations and individuals who identified the problem and fights against the Soviet totalitarian legacy as one of the Kremlin's disinformation tools, damages the process, which should be aimed at consolidating society against external threats and not at fighting internal democratic institutions. It is also worrying that the government deliberately tries to make religious organizations an active part of the political process, which damages the political neutrality and independence of the religious organizations themselves.

It should be noted that, like civil society, international donor organizations are also the target of a coordinated attack. The attack on the US Agency for International Development (USAID) by the Speaker of the Parliament is particularly alarming. In the background, when with the financial assistance of the American government and other Western state and private funds, restoration and preservation of many iconic buildings and cultural heritage monuments took place in Georgia, such attacks are of a non-constructive nature and strengthen the Kremlin's propaganda narrative, which portrays Western civilization as an enemy of Georgian identity.

Attacks on donor organizations by the ruling party and government representatives have taken place more than once. Members of the anti-Western group "People's Power" and pro-government media organizations are actively involved in the campaign against donor organizations.

Despite refraining to adopt the draft laws on the the so-called "Russian law", it seems that the authorities continue to try to discredit civil society organizations and limit their financial sustainability, which aims to weaken the institution of civil society in Georgia.

It is important to note that the hostile rhetoric directed against civil society organizations is not new and represents a continuous process of an organized and coordinated attack by the government in order to limit the civil society in the country. As the results of social media monitoring for the 2020 and 2021 elections of "Fair Elections" showed, Facebook pages operating in favor of the ruling party and against the opposition at the same time negatively portrayed the activities of civil organizations in the country. According to a report published last May by social media company Meta, pages/accounts/groups were removed from Facebook and Instagram for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior that ran pro-government campaigns, including those related to the "Foreign Agents" bill, with the Department of Strategic Communications of the Georgian Government Administration. were connected.

In addition to the fact that the existence of a strong institution of civil society is important for the democratic development of the country, it also has an important role in the European integration process. In the steps defined for Georgia in the European Commission's communication on the 2023 enlargement policy, special attention is paid to cooperation with civil organizations and their involvement.

On November 27, 2023, the Governmental Commission for European Integration approved the plan of actions for the implementation of the steps defined for Georgia in the communication, which talks about meetings and joint activities with civil organizations. Thus, the government's discrediting rhetoric of civil organizations hinders a cooperative environment and contradicts the policy announced by the Georgian government in its official document.

We call on the political authorities of Georgia to stop attacks on civil organizations and the country's international partners and to make efforts to implement the recommendations necessary for the European integration process.

Information Integrity Coalition 

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