Georgia: Oh so democratic!

scuffles outside national library in GeorgiaGeorgian civil society organisations had tough words for politicians following incidents at a protest in front of the National Library where President Saakashvili was due to speak. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International – Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and the Open Society – Georgia Foundation condemned the acts of violence that ensued. In their statement the four NGOs said

“We believe that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has failed to take preventive measures in an effective manner to avoid injuring of guests of the event. The situation could only be de-escalated after the Interior Minister arrived at the scene. It is clearly a positive fact that the minister personally got involved in the developments; however, we believe that the Interior Ministry has failed to plan adequate measures for ensuring safety of participants, resulting in the necessity to postpone the presidential address.” The NGOs warned that “freedom of assembly and expression is one of the most important values of a democratic society but it must be realized within the legal constraints. We understand that some people have been suffering from the sense of injustice for over the years; nevertheless, this may not justify such illegal acts.”

Is online activism an alternative to street action? 1

The President of Azerbaijan has signed into law amendments that will steeply hike the penalties for unsanctioned public gatherings. Marion Kipiani talks to experts and activists as they ponder online activism as a possible alternative to street action.

The amendments to the law “On freedom of assembly”, to the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Offences were passed by the parliament on 2 November and will come into force at the beginning of 2013. The legal changes mean that the fines for participating in an unsanctioned rally will be increased from the current seven to thirteen manat (approximately the equivalent in Euros) to a hefty 500 to 1,000 manat. (The average monthly salary in Azerbaijan currently stands at just under 400 manat, as eurasianet.org reports). Those who will be charged with organising such unsanctioned gatherings may face fines of up to 3,000 manat – and up to twice that amount, if they hold a formal position such as the leadership of a political party. More…

US congratulates Armenia as the second most active civil society in the Former Soviet Union.

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern, released a video blog last week congratulating Armenian civil society on their effective and non-violent activity; noting that Armenian civil society is getting “stronger and … more effective every day.”

According to a recent USAID assessment, the ambassador informed us that Armenia has the second strongest civil society among the republics of the former Soviet Union. Noting the “vital” role civil society plays in a healthy democracy, Heffern pointed to the increased activity of civil society groups in Armenia in promoting positive change. More…

Pressure grows on Georgian government to create a level playing field in the Georgian media ahead of October’s elections.

Georgian NGOs that form part of the campaign “This concerns you!” have sent an open letter to the Georgian Parliament urging the legislative body to take the interests of the public and the voters into account and introduce “must-carry” and “must-offer” rules in the legislation regulating media activities.

“Do not allow any kind of restriction of access to any media outlet; Take into account opinions and recommendations provided by international organizations on the necessity of pluralistic media in the country,” reads the letter.The letter also discusses the restriction of access to Channel 9 and the decision to switch off radio signal in mini buses, moves seen as aimed at restricting citizen’s access to information. “Even if there is some legal basis for the decisions, the end result has become a matter of concern for numerous non-governmental and media organizations and citizens,” says the letter. More…