State of Emergency
At approximately 10 p.m. on November 7, Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli announced to the public that President Saakashvili had declared a state of emergency that restricted assemblies and imposed some media restrictions in Tbilisi. At 1 a.m. on November 8 Economy Minister Giorgi Arveladze announced that the state of emergency would last for 15 days and would be imposed throughout the country. The state of emergency suspended articles 24 (freedom of speech), 25 (freedom of assembly), and 33 (the right to strike) of the Georgian constitution, and it prohibited private television stations from broadcasting news programs; the publicly-funded Georgian Public Broadcaster was the only station allowed to broadcast news coverage (a local cable company suspended foreign news broadcasts, including CNN and BBC for several days). Parliament confirmed the state of emergency on November 9.245 The state of emergency was lifted after eight days, on November 16, and television stations were allowed to resume news broadcasts.
On the evening of November 7, before the prime ministers announcement of the state of emergency, President Saakashvili gave a televised address to the nation in which he claimed that in taking the actions against the demonstrations, his government had faced down a Russian-backed coup. He announced that the Georgian authorities had received information that alternative government had already been set up in Moscow, [and] that Saakashvili and his government would be overthrown by the end of this year.246 He accused the opposition of colluding with Russian intelligence services in attempting to overthrow the government. Earlier in the day the Ministry of Interior released audio and video recordings that show some opposition leaders meeting with persons allegedly identified as Russian counter-intelligence agents.247
In the same November 7 speech Saakashvili accused Badri Patarkatsishvilito whom he did not refer by name but only as one of the Russian oligarchsof openly calling on Georgian society to overthrow the government; he directly called for mass anti-constitutional actions, which are not admissible in any democratic country.248 On November 9 the General Prosecutors Office officially named Patarkatsishvili a suspect in a coup plot,249 and alleged that two security firms with links to Patarkatsishvili have been involved in an attempt to set up an illegal armed group.250
On November 15 the Tbilisi City Court issued a statement about Imedi, the first statement since the court allegedly issued its decision to suspend Imedis broadcasting and sieze its equipment on November 7 (for more on the court decision, see below). In its statement the court claimed that Imedi television was used as a major tool for organizing the November 7 demonstrations and that Imedis assets could have been used to achieve the goal [of overthrowing the government by armed rebellion]. The court also cited the written statement by Patarkatsishvili read on Imedi and rebroadcast on other television stations in which he said he would spare no resources to liberate Georgia from what he called the Saakashvili regime.251 On November 29, a Tbilisi court gave the Revenue Service a 15-day permit to examine the stations finances. The ruling coincided with financial probes into several other businesses associated with Patarkatsishvili.252
For nearly a month, government authorities and News Corporation officials engaged in discussions about the future of Imedi television in Georgia.253 The EU, the US and others dispatched Polish journalist and former Solidarity activist Adam Michnik to help negotiate a solution to the standoff.254 Imedi remained closed until a December 5 court decision allowed it to resume broadcasting.255 Upon entering the studios on December 7, Imedi executives stated that much of the equipment was badly damaged or missing.256
At approximately 9:30 a.m. on November 8 a few hundred students gathered at Batumi State University to protest the police violence against peaceful demonstrators in Tbilisi the previous day. Eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said about 30 to 50 masked riot police attacked the group without warning, chasing and beating protesters trying to flee.257
One witness described how five police beat one student who accidentally fell on the stairs after running into the university building. Riot police chased other students into classrooms. Some students broke ground-floor windows in attempts to flee. The police also used teargas to disperse the students. Georgias Public Broadcaster reported that seven students were injured and hospitalized, but were soon treated and released. Demonstrators apparently were unaware that the state of emergency and the ban on demonstrations was no longer restricted to Tbilisi, as had been announced initially. Participants told Human Rights Watch that had they known the ban on protests was countrywide, they would not have participated in the demonstration.258
Individual governments and international organizations condemned the Georgian governments actions and imposition of a state of emergency. On November 8 the United States called on the Georgian authorities to lift the state of emergency and restore all media broadcasts, adding, These are necessary steps to restore the democratic conditions for the election and referendum.259 Matyas Eörsi and Kastriot Islami, co-rapporteurs for Georgia of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, issued a statement on November 10 during their snap visit to Georgia, saying, The measures taken in the last few days represent a huge step backwards from the aspiration to become a fully-fledged democratic state that respects the fundamental values of pluralistic democracy and human rights.260 A number of senior diplomats from Western countries were immediately dispatched to Tbilisi, including United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza and EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby.
On November 8, in an apparent effort to diffuse the political crisis, President Saakashvili announced a snap presidential election for January 5, 2008. Saakashvili also proposed holding a non-binding referendum on the same day to allow people to vote on whether parliamentary elections should be held in the spring, as proposed by opposition parties, or in late 2008.261
245 The vote was 149 to 0 in a session of the 235-seat Parliament that the opposition boycotted. C.J. Chivers, Georgian Parliament Confirms Emergency Rule, New York Times,November 10, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/10/world/europe/10georgia.html?_r=2&ref=world&oref=slogin&oref=slogin (accessed December 3, 2007).
246 Full Text: Saakashvilis Televised Address to the Nation, Civil Georgia, November 8, 2007, http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=16241 (accessed December 4, 2007). On November 7, Tbilisi recalled its ambassador to Russia and later expelled three Russian diplomats. Georgia to Expel Three Diplomats, Civil Georgia, November 8, 2007, http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=16240 (accessed December 4, 2007).
247 The audio and video materials are available on the Ministry of Interior website at http://www.police.ge/en/curview.aspx?newsid=30470&categoryid=1 (accessed December 4, 2007).
248 Full Text: Saakashvilis Televised Address to the Nation. Civil Georgia.
249 Georgian magnate suspected of coup plot-prosecutor, Reuters, November 9, 2007, http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSL0888987920071109 (accessed December 4, 2007).
250 Patarkatsishvilis Security Wanted to Set up Armed Group Official, Civil Georgia, November 16, 2007, http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=16355 (accessed December 4, 2007).
251 Court Explains Reasons Behind Suspending Imedi TVs License, Civil Georgia, November 15, 2007, http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=16342 (accessed November 17, 2007).
252 Corso, Tbilisi to News Corp.: Show us the Ownership Documents for Pro-Opposition TV Station, EurasiaNet.
253 The governments initial demands were that News Corporation should take sole ownership of Imedi TV and radio stations; unnamed journalists engaged in politics should quit journalism; Imedi should submit to quarterly financial audits; and there should be guarantees of journalistic integrity and professional standards. See, for example, Authorities Want Imedi to Change Hands, Civil Georgia, November 28, 2007, http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=16447 (accessed November 29, 2007).
254 Imedi Opposition TV to Return to Airwaves, RFE/RL, December 4, 2007, http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticleprint/2007/12/6cb1e86a-251e-409d-b83b-f364a161d372.html (accessed December 6, 2007).
255 Georgian authorities restore top independent stations broadcasting license, International Herald Tribune, December 5, 2007, http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/12/05/europe/EU-GEN-Georgia-Media.php (accessed December 6, 2007).
256 Imedi Studio Equipment Badly Damaged, Civil Georgia, December 7, 2007, http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=16519 (accessed December 7, 2007).
257 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Alexander A., November 8, 2007; and Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mariam M., November 8, 2007.
258 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Alexander A., November 8, 2007.
259 Georgia: Need for Restraint and Respect for Rule of Law, US Department of State press statement, November 8, 2007, http://www.state.gov/p/eur/ci/gg/c4398.htm (accessed December 3, 2007).
261 Georgia Leader Calls Early Election to Decide His Fate, New York Times.