Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili has been accused of using Facebook bots to ‘like’ a post defending embattled Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani. On Wednesday, demonstrators left dozens of boots outside the government Chancellery building to protest the government’s use of ‘shameful propaganda tools’.
Around 10 non-governmental organisations have called for Tsulukiani to be sacked, due to ‘failed reforms’ she had led.
Organisations including, the Open Society Foundation, Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC) held a briefing on Tuesday where they said they would participate in the selection of a new General Prosecutor, but ‘not under Tsulukiani’s rule in the Justice Ministry’.
Sopho Verdzeuli from EMC said Tsulukiani had failed in delivering several key reforms including on drug policy, the creation of an independent mechanism to investigate crimes committed by police or prosecutors, judicial reform, as well as in the selection process for judges for the European Court of Human Rights. She said the Justice Minister must take responsibility and resign.
The general prosecutor’s seat has been vacant since 31 May, when Irakli Shotadze resigned following large demonstrations into the handling of the Khorava Street murder investigation.
The group of NGOs said they would participate in the selection process of a new chief prosecutor, but said they ‘would not sit at the table with Tsulukiani’.
[Read more about General Prosecutor’s resignation on OC Media: Georgia’s chief prosecutor resigns amidst mass protests]
‘We call on the Georgian government to dismiss the Justice Minister, as for years she has been unable to cope with important missions such as reforming justice sector.’ Eka Gigauri, head of Transparency International Georgia said at the briefing.
‘We think she won’t be determined to select an independent, impartial and worthy chief prosecutor, therefore, we won’t sit at the negotiation table with her’, she added.
Boots outside the government’s office
The same day, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili took to his official Facebook page, calling the request for Tsulukiani’s resignation an ‘absolutely absurd and irrational demand’.
‘It is unacceptable when some NGOs use the language of ultimatums to communicate with us in an attempt to question the legitimacy of this process by boycotting it. Their statement reveals an attempt to transfer this issue into the political dimension, which is equally unacceptable. This is why I urge them against stepping over the mandate of their purview and, if the process’ transparency is truly their goal, to exercise more responsibility in making decisions’, the PM said.
Facebook users quickly reacted to the PM’s post with the ‘laughter reaction’. People began encouraging other users to do the same generating 5,600 laughter reactions.
When after a short time users noticed the number of ‘likes’ had started to rise quickly on the post, many began to point out a majority of these came from users with non-Georgian names. This led to accusations the government had paid money to generate ‘likes’ from fake users, known as ‘bots’, to counter the number of laughter reactions.
The press office of the Government’s Administration told Liberali on Wednesday the bots were the result of an ‘organised viral attack’ on the PM’s post. They claimed somebody had used the bots to generate fake likes in order to ‘discredit the liking process’.
The movement ‘For Freedom’ has announced a demonstration will be held on Friday in front of Tbilisi’s Public Service Hall to demand Tsulukiani’s resignation. One of the reasons given in the event description was that ‘none of the prosecutors she has nominated has worked independently’. They said the a new Justice Minister must nominate a candidate who has the public’s trust.