Liberty Institute (Georgia)
Liberty Institute played an important role in the Rose Revolution. After the revolution, most of its founders were elected to the Parliament of Georgia. Giga Bokeria became Deputy chairman of the Committee on Legal Issues, Member of Committee on Defense and Security, one of the leaders of United National Movement. He has authored many laws to strengthen human rights in Georgia. Givi Targamadze, became Chair of Georgian Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security. Together with some other members of Liberty Institute and Kmara was consulting Ukrainian opposition leaders on technique of non-violent struggle. Later on he also advised the leaders of the Kyrgyz opposition during the Tulip Revolution. David Zurabishvili in 2005 defected from United National Movement and now is member of opposition Republican Party of Georgia. In 2004 member of Liberty Institute Sozar Subari, was elected by Parliament of Georgia as Public Defender (Ombudsman) for 5 years term. Former member of Liberty Institute Gigi Ugulava became Mayor of Tbilisi. Former member of Liberty Institute Zurab Tchiaberashvili is Georgian Ambassador to Council of Europe. In 2005 member of Liberty Institute Tamar Kintsurashvili was elected by the Board Governors of Georgian Public Broadcaster as its first Director General. Konstantine Vardzelashvili became in 2004 firstly deputy minister of Justice, lately in 2006 - deputy chair of Constitutional Court of Georgia. Anna Zhvania was appointed initially as adviser to President, in 2006 she became first female head of Foreign Intelligence Special Service of Georgia. Now she serves as 1st deputy Minister of Educations and Science. Former Executive Director of Liberty Institute Akaki Minashvili was elected to Parliament of Georgia and in December 2008 he was elected as Chairman of Committee on Foreign Affairs. Before that he was Deputy Chairman of Committee on Legal Issues.
Liberty Institute was founded in 1996. The immediate reason of its foundation were the well-known events related to the Rustavi 2, an independent TV station. About a month before, the Georgia Ministry of Communications had ceased the company to broadcast license. This move was regarded as a blatant violation of freedom of speech and threat to independent media. By this time, the non-governmental sector in Georgia was in almost embryonic stage of development as only a few civil rights organizations were active. In this situation idea of creation an NGO which would primarily focus on defence of civil rights, particularly freedom of speech, came into existence.
The Liberty Institute is one of the most quoted organizations by Georgia’s broadcasting and print media. 15 books have been published by LI experts; LI produce an extensive state of the human rights report annually. Its monthly magazine, Liberty, is one of the most highly demanded publications in Georgia. In February 2003 as result of long time advocacy effort by Liberty Institute constitutional amendments was adopted and jury was trial introduction in Georgia. 11 laws drafted by this organization were adopted by Parliament of Georgia. In 1999, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the General Administrative Code of Georgia, one of the most important chapters of which on Freedom of Information was drafted by Liberty Institute. This law provides for public access to public information and governmental meetings and lays down the legislative grounds for transparency and accountability of public institutions. Drafted with Liberty Institute’s active involvement, the Laws on Higher Education and General Education were adopted by parliament in 2004 and 2005 provide for guarantees of academic freedom and student rights. Two groundbreaking media and free speech laws adopted by Parliament of Georgia were also drafted by this organization – The Law on the Freedom of Speech and Expression and The Law on Broadcasting, that created one of the most liberal legal regimes' for freedom of speech and expression. Several policy concepts developed by the Liberty Institute have been adopted by the government, among them the Anti-Corruption Strategy and the Educational Reform Concept. Apart from the Tbilisi head office, Liberty Institute operates five regional offices in Georgia, and provides thousands of citizens annually with legal consultancies.
While defence of human rights remained to be a top priority for the institute, with time, it has extended its focus on various fields:
- The Liberty Institute supported the development of the investigative journalism in Georgia. Givi Targamadze, Chief Coordinator of Journalistic Investigations Program of the Institute conducted a number of journalistic investigations, published in newspapers seriously contributed to the dismissal of the Minister of Communications, the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Energy, from their positions in 1998-2000. In the frame of Anticorruption campaign Liberty Institute a lot of time named the Corruption and legal violations in the government. In 1998-2000 Anticorruption activities of the Liberty Institute and by its members were enjoyed high degree of publicity: criminal activities of David Bezhuashvli, MP, and Levan Mamaladze, governor of the Kvemo-Kartli region; Corruption and legal violations at the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Communications; Participation of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Security in smuggling tobacco, petroleum and pure alcohol; Criminal interests and illegal business activities of President Shevardnadze's family.
- Since 2001 together with the students' movement the LI carried out the anticorruption campaign at the Tbilisi Ivane Javakhishvili State University. In the frame of the campaign the survey was held and the corrupt faculties and lecturers were publicly named. The members of the movement investigated the facts of misuse of University funds and multiple financial abuses. Materials found by the LI were handed to Anticorruption Council and Prosecutor's Office.
- First protest to denounce religious violence was carried out by the Institute on October 19, 1999. Liberty Institute protested against religious extremism and of violence against religious minorities. Liberty Institute made these problems discussed by the public. Since 1998 Liberty Institute protested against religious extremism existed in the Orthodox Church of Georgia, the Liberty Institute always strictly reacted on every fact of violation of religious freedom and carried 2 cases in the constitutional court. The Liberty Institute strictly reacted and denounced attack on the Baptist Church by the Police in Tianeti region; Attack on congregation of the Evangelist Church "Madli" in the Gldani District of Tbilisi; Illegal arrest of religious literature on the border by the State. It always protected rights of Jehovah's Witnesses, when Basil Mkalavishvili and his supporters were attacking them and protested the cessation of registration of Jehovah's Witnesses by court; Liberty Institute was fighting against the trend of transferring churches belonging to the Catholics to the Orthodox Church by the state and protected the rights of Orthodox congregations that do not belong to the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate. Religious extremism became the subject of active public debates in Georgia following Liberty Institute’s campaigns against violations of religious rights. Liberty Institute also initiated two cases defending the rights of religious minorities at the Constitutional Court.
- One of the main directions of the Institute's activism has been prevention and aversion of facts of illegal arrest, torture during the pre-trial detention and prevention of the illegal actions and violation of the human rights in the law enforcement agencies. In 1998, the Liberty Institute carried out a special project, which aimed to monitor the Police raids. As a result of which a lot of fact of illegalness and torture was found. In 2000, based on the initiative of the Liberty Institute, a Public Review Board was established at the Ministry of Justice. The council has been a major mechanism of civil control of the penitentiary system. In 2004 Liberty Institute together with Ombudsman's office created Public Councils, the members of which have a right to enter and carry the monitoring over the pre-trial detention and police stations at any time without restrictions.
- Liberty Institute supported the youth movements in Georgia. Liberty Institute encouraged the development of youth movements such as independent student's self-governing bodies within the Universities and created civil liberties youth network throughout the country; Due to Liberty Institute activities the first active youth movement Kmara emerged in Georgia in 2003 and has already played a crucial role in defending and promoting civil and political rights in Georgia. Liberty Institute provided 800 activists with practical trainings. Currently, within the framework of the Civil Liberties Youth Network, Liberty Institute leads a series of youth debates in Georgia’s regions aimed at promoting civic values and anti-corruption ethics among high school and local university students through discussions on the history and philosophy of constitutional rights among youth. The goal of the debates is also to foster critical thinking and leadership skills among youth.
- Liberty Institute prepared the first Professional Standards of Media in Georgia in 2003, which was adopted by the major national and regional TV Companies and newspapers.
- Liberty Institute is also active in terms of legal initiatives and has an experience of legal drafting. The Law on the Freedom of Speech and Expression adopted by the Parliament of Georgia in 2004 was prepared by the LI. This law was estimated by the Georgian and international experts as the most democratic law in the post-communistic area. In 2004 the Parliament of Georgia adopted the Law on Broadcasting also prepared by the Liberty Institute. According this law on the basis of the state TV the Public Broadcasting Service will be developed. Liberty Institute proposed constitutional amendment to introduce the jury system and now works on drafting of criminal procedural code. The Parliament of Georgia accepted this proposal in 2004. In 2003 The Parliament of Georgia adopted the Law about confiscation of illegally earned property. In 1997 prepared the Freedom of Information chapter of the General Administrative Code, which was adopted in 1999 by the Parliament.
- The liberty Institute has campaigned for the establishment of effective civil control over the human rights; LI provides practical help to local communities to defend their rights. These activities include individual legal consultation, Court representational activities and civil campaigns to make the society mobilized over the specific facts of violation of human rights.
- Liberty Institute has always participated and supported the educational reform in Georgia. The part of the law of the education accepted by the parliament of Georgia in 2004 was created in the LI. The part covers the rights of students and academic freedom. According to the LI initiative the School boards in public schools was created in Georgia since 2003.
Liberty Institute consistently provides resources, trainings and support for the whole diversity of social and professional groups enhancing effectiveness, professionalism, and active citizenship, principles of civil responsibility, accountability and transparency within society. A number of LI publications were approved as textbooks by the major higher education institutions in Georgia. The books are used at the faculties of Journalism and Law.
Over the years Liberty Institute frequently became the object of attacks from authoritarian government officials and extremist groups. On July 10, 2002, a group of 20 seemingly well-trained vandals burst into the office of the Liberty Institute and physically injured members of the organization Levan Ramishvili, Sozar Subari, David Zurabishvili, Giga Phrangishvili and Dali Tskitishvili. They destroyed office equipment and the office itself. Accidentally, during the pogrom, experts of the Council of Europe were present. This act of violence received wide coverage in local and international media. The incident, however, has not yet been investigated.
Liberty institute has provided legal services in defending the rights of thousands of people. Through public campaigns, legal, educational and legislative activities Liberty Institute aims to establish democratic and liberal values, public accountability, control mechanisms and support the development of democratic institutions in Georgia.