Georgian Dream–endorsed presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili and members of her family received SMS and audio death threats from ‘former military officers’, she announced on Monday.
Messages including ‘I will put a hole in your head’ and ‘I will drink your blood’ were allegedly sent to from 9–11 November.
At a press conference on Monday, the presidential candidate said she knew who the senders were but declined to reveal their identities, other than to describe them as ‘former military officers’. She said that judging by posts on their Facebook pages, they were ‘connected to’ the opposition United National Movement Party (UNM) and their leadership.
Soon after Monday’s press conference, the Interior Ministry confirmed that Zurabishvili had reported receiving death threats on 10 November and that they had opened an investigation.
The ministry said threats were made using Facebook, and the probe by the Ministry’s Criminal Police Department was also looking into ‘unauthorised access of a computer system’.
Zurabishvili told journalists the threats were ‘another step towards creating an atmosphere of tension, enmity, and hate in the country, with the daily participation of inner and outsider leaders of one political movement, as well as their supporters and TV anchors’.
Zurabishvili’s campaign and leaders of Georgian Dream have on several occasions accused the UNM of targeting Zurabishvili with ‘aggression’, ‘misinformation’, and ‘hate’.
Zurabishvili said that the senders claimed to be speaking on behalf of military troops, which she called a ‘manipulation’ that was ‘offensive’ to Georgians soldiers.
Georgian authorities condemned an attempt to involve the military in the election campaign on 8 November, after Devi Chankotadze, a retired Lieutenant-General and former Chief of the Joint Staff of the Armed Forces, publicly condemned Zurabishvili.
Speaking at the Mukhatgverdi Brothers Cemetery with other supposedly former military officers, he urged Georgians not to vote for Zurabishvili over her remarks on the 2008 August War.
Zurabishvili has repeatedly accused former president Mikheil Saakashvili, leader of the UNM, of falling for Russian ‘provocations’ and starting the war.
Zurabishvili was also verbally confronted over her comments by a UNM activist during her visit to the village of Atotsi, near South Ossetia, on 8 November.
She said she had reported the incidents to the authorities to ‘prevent any attempt to destabilise’ the country.
Responding to Zurabishvili’s claims, UNM MP Salome Samadashvili told news agency GHN ‘if I held a press briefing every time I received threats on Facebook, it would be awkward’. She added that the claims needed to be substantiated.
Calling out NGOs
At the press conference, Zurabishvili also called on Georgian NGOs that she said had ‘failed to react’ to previous cases of ‘hate speech, gender-based discrimination, and violation of political correctness’, to condemn the death threats.
According to Zurabishvili, if they failed to do so, NGOs would ‘share the responsibility’.
[Read also about anti-NGO rhetoric during the election period on OC Media: Georgia’s ruling party lashes out at NGOs over Omega tapes criticism]
Georgian Dream Secretary and Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze told journalists that considering the atmosphere before the first round of the presidential elections, he ‘wasn't surprised’ by the news.
‘I have reacted to offensive statements, lies, and propaganda numerous times, but threatening a person with murder is too much, it needs a serious reaction’.
Georgia’s Public Defender Nino Lomjaria responded to the news, writing on her Facebook page that making death threats was a crime and should be dealt with by law enforcement agencies, not civil society.
She noted that NGOs often faced similar threats and that she herself had been targeted after taking the job. Lomjaria attached images of threatening and abusive messages she claimed to have received several months ago.
Georgian election watchdog ISFED called on the Interior Ministry to investigate the alleged death threats, and urged all candidates and their supporters to refrain from ‘contributing to an atmosphere of violence’.