Statement of NGOs about detention of a Georgian activist in Akhalgori
We, the below signatory organizations issue this statement in reaction to the acts of persecution against a Georgian civil rights activist and journalist Tmar Mearakishvili, who lives in Akhalgori District, by de-facto Tskhinvali authorities on 16 August 2017, and urge the Government of Georgia to use all available diplomatic and legal means to protect safety and rights of the activist. 

Following the military occupation of Tskhinali Region, including Akhalgori District, by Russia in the aftermath of the August 2008 war, Tamar Mearakishvili continues to live in the region and to publicly criticize the corruptive and repressive policies of Tskhinvali de-facto regime. She closely cooperates with a range of independent media and openly talks about problems that exist in the region, including practices of discrimination and harassment against ethnic Georgians who live in Akhalgori. Despite a number of threats and coercion exercised against her by representatives of de-facto Tskhinvali regime, T.Mearakishvili refused to leave Akhalgori territory and abandon her public activity. 

It was reported by media that at 6:00pm on 16 August 2017, Tamar Mearakishvili was detained by individuals dressed in civilian clothes outside her home, without explaining the basis of her detention. She was interrogated for hours, without having her lawyer present and under threats, before she was released several hours later. It has been reported by media that T.Mearakishvili is suspected of disseminating slanderous reports against the United Ossetia, the ruling party of the de-facto regime of Tskhinvali. Here we must note that several days prior to her arrest, on 31 July 2017, T.Mearakishvili was summoned by the law enforcement of Tskhinvali de-facto regime for questioning; they attempted to intimidate her by questions related to her work, including cooperation with Ekho Kavkaz, and aggressive communication, while prior to that, on 8 June 2017, T.Mearkishvili was kidnapped from Akhalgori To Tskhinvali. 

Detention and continued harassment of T.Mearakishvili on different occasions, due to her political and different views as well as ethnicity, are indicative of a possible persecution. The repressive policy has been pursued against the activist in an attempt to intimidate her, limit her journalistic activity and force her to leave the territory of Akhalgori. Clearly, such attempts of harassment have a “chilling effect” on other activists, journalists as well as ethnic Georgians living in the region. 

Timely and effective intervention by the Government of Georgia and international organizations in T.Mearkishvili’s case is essential for securing her freedom and safety.
Following the military occupation in 2008, Akhalgori has remained under the Russian Federation’s effective control and according to the international human rights principles, it is the Russian Federation that bears principal responsibility for human rights violations on that territory. The duty to protect human rights and freedoms is related to effective control of the territory, whether the control is was exercised by a state directly, through armed forces, or through depending local authorities. At the same time, despite the lack of Georgia’s control over the territory of Tskhinvali Region, it still has a positive obligation to use all available means to protect and respect human rights of an individual within its jurisdiction, including all available diplomatic and legal measures to continue protecting human rights and freedoms. 

Although M.Mearkishvili has been released following her detention on August 16 by the de-facto militia of Tkhinvali, there is a risk that the criminal prosecution instituted against her will become arbitrary and discriminatory. In light of the foregoing, we urge:

- the government of Georgia to use all available diplomatic and legal mechanisms, including negotiation formats and resources of international organizations, to protect T.Mearakishvili and her family’s safety and rights. 

- international organizations to intervene in a timely manner and use all available mechanisms of diplomatic and political pressure against the Russian Federation and de-facto Tskhinvali regime for stopping T.Mearakishvili’s persecution on political and other grounds on the territory of Akhalgori, for ensuring strict abidance by human rights standards in the process of criminal persecution instituted against T.Mearkishvili, and for protecting her safety. 

The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Georgian Democratic Initiative (GDI)
Open Society – Georgia Foundation (OSGF)
Transparency International – Georgia (TI)
Media Development Fund (MDF)
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)

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