Range of measures that will provide “level playing field” for all the parties in local elections were among key issues discussed with the Georgian officials, Michael H. Posner, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor said in Tbilisi on November 17.
Posner led the U.S. interagency delegation, which participated in a meeting of a bilateral working group on democracy with the Georgian authorities in frames of the U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership.
“A theme throughout the day, for me at least, is that there is range of things that will make possible level playing field for the spring municipal elections. And one important piece of that – I think everybody is aware of – is that there be a diversity of media views, reporting on full range of positions and opinions,” Posner said.
He was speaking at a joint news conference with Giga Bokeria, the deputy foreign minister, who co-chairs the working group on democracy from the Georgian side. Officials from the Interior Ministry; Ministry of Justice; Foreign Ministry; Ministry for Probation and Penitentiary, as well as from Georgian National Communications Commission and two senior ruling party lawmakers – Pavle Kublashvili and Akaki Minashvili - also participated in the meeting.
The bilateral working group on democracy is one of those four, which were established to address priority areas of bilateral cooperation identified by the U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership. Security, economic development and people-to-people relations are three other priority areas. Bilateral working group on security held its first meeting in October in Tbilisi.
Posner named “diversifying media outlets and media ownership; promoting civil society engagement and ensuring accountability for police and other law enforcement” among the areas in which, he said, the U.S was encouraging the Georgian government “to go further.”
Media was among the key issues also discussed by the U.S. delegation earlier on November 17 at the meetings with some opposition leaders and civil society and media representatives. Erosi Kitsmarishvili, Georgia’s former ambassador to Russia and former co-owner of Rustavi 2 TV, who has just recently took over the management of Tbilisi-based Maestro TV, was among media representatives attending the meeting.
Posner, who before joining the State Department in 2009 was with the rights group Human Rights First for three decades, said discussions with the Georgian authorities also involved issues related with judiciary, rule of law, as well as the new criminal procedure code, which, he said, was “a very positive development.”
Asked if the U.S. delegation raised the opposition’s allegations about the authorities holding, what it calls, political prisoners, Posner said that the issue was not discussed.
He, however, also added: “I know that the ombudsman here has raised some cases and we do take those cases seriously and have other opportunities to discuss them with the government.”
While being a public defender Sozar Subari, who is now with the opposition Alliance for Georgia, was indicating in his biannual report to the Parliament on number of cases, which he was describing as political prisoners. No such cases are mentioned in the recent report submitted to the Parliament by new Public Defender, Giorgi Tugushi.
Irakli Alasania, the leader of Alliance for Georgia, said on November 17 that eight opposition activists were released in last two days, which he said was a positive development. He said that those eight activists were in the list, which the opposition leaders handed over to Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili, during the meeting in August and which included the names of those activists, who according to the opposition, were arrested for political motives.
During the press conference Deputy Foreign Minister, Giga Bokeria, downplayed the allegations about political prisoners by saying that “the issue of so called political prisoners is not a serious issue to be considered, because this problem is non-existent in Georgia.”
“Georgia is a country where criticism of the government is a normal part of everyday life and that is how it should be,” he added.
He also said that further reform of the judiciary and “bringing more trust towards the judiciary is one of the challenges acknowledged by the government.”