Pro-Russian, violent organization Alt-info has been opening offices in various cities of Georgia. This has been followed by numerous protests – the youth of Mestia protested the opening of an Alt-info office, which was met with aggression from the pro-Russian forces and up to 10 people were beaten. The same happened in Kobuleti, where 12 members of the Conservative Movement were arrested during a rally organized by school and university students. There were rallies held in Ozurgeti and Zugdidi at the initiative of citizens. The opening of the Alt-Info office was also protested in Ambrolauri, the office building in Gori was painted red, locals in Akhaltsikhe made anti-Soviet nostalgia inscriptions on the office banner, and pro-Russian forces left their offices in Khulo and Shuakhevi on the opening day.
The resistance was particularly strong toward a civil activist from Marneuli, Samira Bairamova. She painted Alt-info office in Ukrainian colors and left an inscription on the banner – “Russia is an occupier.” Samira Bairamova’s protest was followed by threats from Alt-info supporters and members of the group that worsened the ethnic and religious conflict.
It’s noteworthy that the organizers of various rallies were mostly women, while the statements of the supporters of pro-Russian forces often intoned gender discrimination messages. However, we haven’t seen the state openly condone the violent actions of Alt-info. An exception to this was Nino Tsilosani, a member of the parliamentary majority, who called on Vakhtang Gomelauri at the sitting to take effective steps to cease the hate campaign directed at Samira Bairamova.
The minister of internal affairs, Vakhtang Gomelauri, said that investigation was under way and the case would be completed. However, he added that a ban on Alt-info activities, as a party, required strict regulations and that his wish only could change nothing, because his role, as an interior minister, is enforcing the law.
Civil society in connection with the minister’s statement thinks that there are sufficient grounds to investigate Alt-Info’s actions, including organizing a violent rally on July 5, during which more than 50 journalists were beaten, offices of civil society organizations vandalized and personal equipment of organizations ransacked. The organizers of the rally have not been arrested so far, and only one of the accused in the violent act has been brought to justice. The detainee is an opponent of the silent rally planned for July 6, who physically assaulted the operator of Palitra News.
In response to government inaction and to show solidarity with activists, including in support of Samira Bairamova, the women’s movement has issued an open letter calling for an effective investigation into the threats, safeguards for Samira Bairamova, and observing the actions of the Conservative Party.
“The women’s movement expresses solidarity with human rights activist Samira Bairamova and demands guarantees from the state for her protection and an immediate and effective investigation into the threats against Samira.
At the same time, we call on the President and Members of Parliament of Georgia, both from the ruling and opposition parties, to study and evaluate the activities of the Conservative Party and to appeal to the Constitutional Court to ban the Conservative Party as the Conservative Party promotes violence” – is noted in the statement.
The statement also said that today, when thousands of civilians in Ukraine are being killed by Russian aggression, protests by Georgian citizens are only natural. Additionally, Alt-info, while being misogynistic and homophobic, organizes violent groups and attacks, which was evident with the assaults of journalists and human rights activists on July 5-6.”
Ida Bakhturidze, a member of the International Organization for Women and Women’s Movement for a Common Future, told us that “the particularly dangerous campaign against Samira Bairamova is aimed at inciting ethnic and religious hatred. This is an attempt to stir up religious hatred. Samira’s protest was not directed toward any religion and was completely within the scope of the form of protest provided by law. Besides, this process is an attempt toward discriminating on the basis of gender. Such violent groups are particularly cruel toward LGBTQ+ activists and women. The inability of the state to punish such actions encourages aggression and violence. State officials often shine a green light for violence toward women. Furthermore, they even voice discriminatory opinions from the tribunes themselves, which gives extra confidence to such groups.
Today we shared a letter of solidarity toward Samira Bairamova and other activists that have been protesting Alt-info offices in various regions. Firstly, we are demanding for the state to investigate all of the threats and actions taken by this group. They pose an immediate threat to both Samira Bairamova and other activists. It is crucial that these actions are followed by appropriate reaction. We have been demanding this since July 5 and the organizers of the crime have not been punished yet. Only a few people have faced consequences that partook in the crime, while the organizers are still unpunished and are threatening regional activists. Besides, we are calling on the state – the parliament and the president to prohibit the activities of this party. They are stirring up ethnic and religious confrontation and have nothing to do with being a political party.”
Another member of the women’s movement, an expert in human rights and gender issues, Moreta Bobokhidze, has said that Alt-info is stirring up religious and ethnic conflict through its violent actions and, therefore, the existence of such group is unjustifiable.
“The indifferent approach toward Alt-info is an indicator of the fact that the state is not aware of religious extremism and anti-gender movement. This isn’t a challenge only in Georgia, but in the whole world and lately this issue has been more severe. I would say that Alt-info is an anti-gender movement. Besides, they are stirring up ethnic and religious conflict and their pro-Russian sentiments are also evident. This is a harmful project, we don’t know who exactly is financing it – but a sharp mind and detecting eye will find the source. Therefore, we are in great danger, especially the women. Women everywhere are fighting hard against the opening of new offices – in Zugdidi, Marneuli, Ozurgeti. Women have seen the worst of it, they realize that this is one of the main indicators of an authoritarian regime.
The state might try to justify the existence of Alt-info with freedom of speech, but against this stands the obligation to provide safety, which is their direct duty. It is necessary to evaluate the influence of such groups on democratic development, to re-evaluate the good faith and goals of every party”, – says Moreta Bobokhidze.
Moreta Bobokhidze adds that “this is the best breeding ground for groups like Alt-info, because people are confused and scared. There are cases of retraumatization. Today we have experienced the war of Ukraine on ourselves – people are frightened, we are all vulnerable and it is easier to coax people into unconsciously joining various groups. That’s why, the state must pay double the attention to the actions and statements of Alt-info. Each word can carry much weight. A waste of time in this process will be a setback and a step towards Russia.”
We spoke to Keti Abashidze, Senior Human Rights Advisor at the Human Rights House Foundation, who noted that there was ample evidence of Alt-Info’s violent acts, but that the authorities were not willing to investigate the cases.
“The indifference of the state and, in some cases, even the encouragement of violent groups, which we heard on July 5, indicates that the state has no desire to stop them and that such actions are acceptable to them. We should not forget that such groups often threaten human rights defenders, perhaps that is why it is not surprising that Samira Bairamova has become the target of their threats today. We also remember that they are instigators of violence against LGBTQ activists and they themselves are violent, but the state neither condemns their actions verbally nor raises the issue of legal responsibility in accordance with Georgian law. This is alarming. This group has been operating for a long time and journalists have kept all their calls, activities. It is not only the threats of violence – we have examples of violent actions encouraged by them, facts of violence with their participation or organized by them. Therefore, the state is obliged to prevent their actions and to even publicly condemn them. The state has obligations to human rights defenders – according to various UN resolutions, so they are obliged to fulfill their responsibilities. The resolutions state that the government must protect human rights defenders from possible violence, including violence from non-governmental groups.” – Keti Abashidze tells us.
Nino Dolidze, Executive Director of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, says that Alt-Info’s anti-state interests are clear, so there are grounds to suppress their activities, but the government does not respond properly.
“Alt-Info is a group representing Russian interests, which is in opposition to the state, the foreign course chosen by the citizens. Moving in this direction is also guaranteed by our constitution. We all remember the Russian aggression, the consequences of the war and still occupy the territories of different states, if any group pursues the interests of the occupier at this time, it is anti-state, so, of course, it is against the interests. In this context, it should not be allowed for these groups to exist in the country. They pose a threat to the sovereignty of the country and are at odds with our constitutional order. This problem leads to another issue – they are stirring up ethnic and religious conflict – we remember the events of July 5, when they organized a homophobic, violent rally. They fight everything that can be considered as western values. They are fighting against people’s freedom not only through rallies, but also through physical violence and confrontation. They are culpable, but they’re not being properly punished for their actions. The government does not take any proper measures, which raises many questions. We have witnessed people be arrested for throwing eggs at an administrative building, while there is complete inaction toward violent groups. This raises a suspicion – when you don’t punish a criminal, you might be their silent ally.” – says Nino Dolidze.
According to Keti Abashidze, the Human Rights House conducted a study in the region in 2021, which established direct or indirect ties of ultra-right groups with Russia, which is anti-state. In addition, she said, “According to most studies, women human rights defenders, activists fighting for the rights of ethnic minorities, LGBTQI rights activists and LGBTQI communities, as well as environmentalists, anti-corruption activists and journalists are at particular risk. In this context, the state’s position toward threats against Samira Bairamova is of special importance.
Women politicians and human rights activists, including Nino Dolidze, Baia Pataraia, Ana Natsvlishvili and Khatuna Samnidze, arrived in Marneuli to show solidarity with Samira Bairamova on March 21, the holiday of Nowruz Bairam.
Organizers of solidarity with activists and resistance to alt-info actions are often female human rights activists and politicians. They unanimously demand the formation of security guarantees for Samira Bairamova and other activists, the investigation of Alt-Info’s actions, and clear statements by the authorities, including on the violent events of July 5-6. According to Ida Bakhturidze, they expect more and demand more.
Nino Dolidze notes that “Ministry of Internal Affairs shouldn’t be just active, but it should be proactive. It should have reacted immediately as the threats were made. Yesterday these groups also painted the UNM office, which was an act of aggression directed against Samira and not a retaliation against the UNM.
By the action of Ministry of Internal Affairs, I do not only mean the investigation, but also the dissemination of statements, making it clear that such actions are unacceptable in the country. “The policy and position of the state aren’t any less important, but we all remember the statement of the Prime Minister on July 5, who encouraged violence.