For Freedom of Speech and Press in the Republic of Georgia sign now

To: Mikhael Saakashvili, President of the Republic of Georgia

We the undersigned are appalled by the violent attacks on peaceful protesters in the streets of Tbilisi by Georgian Police and Special Forces units and the closing and apparent vandalizing of opposition television channels Imedi and Kavkasia by Georgian Special Forces, that occurred on November 7th 2007 (see appended letter below). These actions we condemn as being disproportionate, without any sort of moral or legal justification, and in contradiction with any sort of civilized system of laws or values of the kind that the current Georgian Government frequently endorses publicly. The attacks, involving beatings, tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters, according to reliable witnesses (see below), do not represent forms that are widely used in such circumstances in civilized, Western countries, as the Georgian Government has been claiming. We further condemn the declaration of a state of emergency and ask that this be rescinded immediately.

We also find it difficult to imagine what possible legitimacy could be conferred in these terms on the closing of independent television broadcasters using riot troops. We cannot accept that freedom of speech prevails, as the Government has been claiming, when most independent media outlets are silenced at gunpoint. We ask that full freedoms of the press be restored immediately and that the channels Imedi and Kavkasia be given immediate and full restitution for any damages they may have suffered personally or in terms of property from the raids on their offices.

The Georgian Governments attempt to locate agency for these popular manifestations in nefarious schemes and conspiracies of external (Russian) and internal agents and spies we find to be utterly groundless and frankly absurd. If evidence exists that this was the case, the Georgian Government should produce such evidence from outside objective sources with no linkage to the Georgian Government.

We leave the Government claim that the protests were interfering with routine sanitation work in front of Parliament without comment, as surely it needs none.

Furthermore, we suggest that a Government that itself came to power by peaceful street protests should be prepared for the possibility that these legal expressions of popular will and freedom of speech may be turned against itself in turn. In this sense, the Rose Revolution has turned out to be much thornier than the Shevardnadze regime, which, we note, responded peacefully to the precisely identical protests that carried you to power. The only threats to the constitutional order of Georgia would appear to reside in the Governments own actions, as displayed on the streets of Tbilisi on November 7th 2007.

(This petition was written on behalf of members of the Georgian Opposition. The translated letter is appended below. An original pdf version of the letter in Georgian is available from the translator at request)

On the 7th of November at 8 in the morning in Tbilisi an attack was begun against peaceful protesters and hunger strikers in front of Parliament. Behind a group of city sanitary workers followed police, who attacked the hunger strikers. At the same time, the police smashed the cameras of the television news reporters and assaulted them physically.

This action continued, approximately, until 9am. Citizens outraged by the attack began to gather in front of Parliament. The entire territory lying in front of Parliament was full of police. They did not give the protesters the opportunity to gather in the street in front of Parliament.

By 12 noon already so many protesters had appeared, that the they could no longer be contained on the sidewalks and they poured into the street itself. At this point the police began an attack on the crowd with truncheons.

At 1 pm Special Forces troops appeared with a vehicle armed with water cannons. Masked and equipped with truncheons and guns firing rubber bullets, the troops began firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters into the crowd. The protesters had their hands raised, to show that this was a peaceful protest. Under the influence of tear gas, many protesters retreated. At this point the Special Forces mercilessly began to assault the protesters and fire rubber bullets into the crowd.

Many Georgian and foreign television companies were broadcasting these actions live. Neither Georgian nor foreign journalists could themselves escape from the attack. As a result of the attack up to thirty journalists of the independent television company Imedi were hurt in this or that manner. The police and Special Forces smashed their cameras, attacked them physically as well as insulting them verbally.

Outraged by this second attack, people came out from all over the city. Their number by 4 pm was reached approximately 50 thousand. Opposition leaders moved the protest from Rustaveli Prospect in front of Parliament to area of the left bank road on the Kura river, so that the demagogic rhetoric of the Government could not be used to the effect that the protesters were disturbing public order and cutting off streets from traffic.

In the neighborhood of Riqe, where absolutely no pretext existed that there was a disturbance of the constitutional order, Special Forces units appeared at 4:30 pm. They set up a blockade on three sides around the protesters and fired water cannons, tear gas canisters, and rubber bullets into the crowd. The crowd panicked. A stampede broke out. Countless people fled in different directions and everywhere they fled they encountered Special Forces troops. The Special Forces drenched the fleeing people with water cannons, pursued them and mercilessly beat them. A portion of the people rushed into the courtyard of the Metekhi church situated in that vicinity. The Special Forces brought the water cannon vehicles up to the courtyard of the church and directed the water at these people, at the same time firing tear gas. One group of these people, falling into a panic, rushed onto a boat docked on the Kura river. So many people gathered on the boat that there was a danger that the boat would capsize and the boat operators closed the gate. A small number of people fled into a pharmacists shop, from which the Special Forces dragged them out and beat them mercilessly.

At approximately 9pm Special Forces entered the building of the television company Imedi [Hope]. At this time the company was beginning a broadcast examining the days events. The journalists managed to say live on the air that there were Special Forces in the building, and then the signal was cut. Five minutes later the signal of the second independent television company, Kavkasia, was cut.

This, as it was happening in the Television company Imedi, was broadcast already live on the air fairly objectively by the Governments Channel I and by Rustavi 2, connected to the Opposition. According to these broadcasts, the Special Forces rushed into the building and threw the company workers and guests invited for the broadcast on the floor. They aimed automatic rifles at the heads of many of them. They took away the cellular phones of the Imedi journalists. When they cut the signal the Special Forces also destroyed a large portion of the broadcasting apparatus.

A state of emergency was announced only an hour ago. The Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli announced the presidents decree. Later the Minster of the Economy read out the decree about the state of emergency, according to which a state of emergency already exists across the territory of Georgia.

Attacking a peaceful protest three times in one day, invading the television company Imedi and cutting the signal of television company Kavkasia not only departs from the framework of the Georgian Constitution, but also represent truly vandalistic actions actions carried out with mind-boggling cruelty and lack of proportion. All this departs from sound reason.

Two words need to be said about this, that the attacks of the 7th of November are a logical continuation of President Saakashvilis chosen course: there does not exist in the country an independent judiciary, from the police there has taken place a display of complete ruthlessnessin the last year 37 young people have been killed by Special Forces operations, whose culpability cannot be justified.

Especially worthy of note was the murder of Sandro Girgvliani in February of 2006 by high ranking members of the Interior Affairs Ministry, about which society learned through the help of television company Imedi. Precisely from that time began the Governments opposition to what is up to the present time virtually Georgias only independent television company.

At the same time, it must be mentioned, that the Government of Georgia systematically violates the property rights of citizens illegally taking possession of homes and other kinds of property.

It is also noteworthy, that the Government has for a long time now sought to implant a conspiracy theory about a great conspiracy directed against Georgia, that is directed by Russia. For a long time now Government representatives have been using against political opponents terms like Traitor to the Nation, Russian Agent, and so on. There is a complete Agentomania [sc. Obsession with the existence of foreign agentstranslator], which reminds us of the Stalin period Terror and the Spymania [sc. Obsession with the existence of spiestranslator] of that period.

The behavior of the Government bears almost all the signs of a kind of Neo-Bolshevism. The Governments main ideologue, Member of Parliament Giga Bokeria and his partner, the so-called Non-Government Organization Liberty Institute representative Levan Ramishvili systematically make announcements to the effect that The people are dark masses, from which the Government must create a new (kind of) human being [Obviously paralleling the Bolshevik avant guardian attitude towards creating Homo Sovieticus from the backwards masses of Russia and other Soviet Statestranslator]. At the same time, these same people announce that they intend to remain in power for 80 years, much like the Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI] in Mexico.

Dear Colleagues, I want to especially note, an an active role was played in giving a foundation to this conspiracy theory and Spymania by Gigi Tevzadze, Rector of the Ilia Chavchavadze State University and Philosopher, Sero Ratiani, a high ranked member of the same university, Giga Zedania, a professor of philosophy of the same university, the political scientists Gia Nodia, Nodar Lodaria and others. Chavchavadze Uniserity is employed in the Governments ideological service. After yesterdays attacks each one of them announced publicly that the Government has the legitimate right to violence.

Generally, in Georgias academic world an atmosphere of terror prevails. Independent intellectuals are either marginalized, or consider working in an academic world ruled by the State an insult to their dignity and rights.

And finally, we need to note, that the American State Department announcement about the need for dialog sounds cynical, inasmuch as Georgias Parliament lengthened its own term of office by 7 months completely illegally and by an absolute violation of the Constitution. Precisely for this reason the people of Georgia demand as the only possible source of legitimacy the holding of elections within the time frame of the Constitution.

When the Government goes beyond the boundaries of the law and violates the Constitution, when the Government implants an atmosphere of Terror, -- this becomes a tyranny.

For this reason too, the most sacred duty of the people of Georgia is that they restore justice and declare civil disobedience.

-- This document was translated from the Georgian by Paul Manning of the Anthropology Department at Trent University at the request of the authors, who will for the time being remain anonymous. The original Georgian text, as a .pdf document, is being circulated alongside this document. Responsibility for all and all infelicities of translation are my own. I hereby attest on the strength of my own reputation that this letter was written by a prominent opposition intellectual, greatly respected in Georgia, who was personally witness to the events of the 7th of November.

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