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Appeal of Human Rights Center and Media Institute regarding the Assault of the Accused in the so called case of Cartographers

February 4, 2021
We are responding to the fact of assault of  Iveri Melashvili accused in the so-called case of cartographers  at a hardware store and believe that this incident was instigated  by the breach of the presumption of innocence of the accused exercised by a number of high-ranking government officials and some media outlets.

The presumption of innocence is one of the most important principles of criminal proceedings operating in the course of legal proceedings until an independent and impartial court renders the final judgment on the culpability or innocence of a person. In its essence, the presumption of innocence is not only a general principle of criminal procedure, but also one of the fundamental guarantees of legal protection observed by the norms of both domestic and international laws. 

The legislative guarantee of the presumption of innocence serves to protect the rights of the accused not only in the judiciary but also in a society. Further, the presumption of innocence aims at providing access to a fair trial. The fundamental Human Rights bind the State. Therefore, the main addressee of the protection of the right to be presumed innocent until found guilty is the State, as the State has both a positive and a negative obligation to protect the rights of the accused. 

The protection of the rights of the accused by the State implies first of all the protection of the accused from the State. However, it also implies the protection of the accused from both individuals and the media. The presumption determines the legal status of the accused not only in criminal proceedings but also in the public relations in which he/she participates. 

The fact that the so-called case of Cartographers was initiated in the preelection period of 2020 Parliamentary Elections and further the fact that most of the assessments of the governmental forces and pro-government media around the case were made in violation of the presumption of innocence with an unequivocally populist content indicate to the intention of the authorities to shape the public opinion in this direction. 

The incident in the hardware store is directly related to the repeated violation of the presumption of innocence against Iveri Melashvili serving as another example of the possible grave consequences of the violation of the right.

The facts that some media outlets violate the presumption of innocence are completely unacceptable as these constitute not only the violations of legislative and self-regulatory norms but also cast a shadow on the role of the media in a democratic society.

According to the general principle enshrined in the Constitution, the exercise of human rights and freedoms should not violate the rights and freedoms of others. The freedom of expression, including the freedom of the media, of speech, of disseminating  and receiving information, is not an absolute right. This is a very important right for a democratic society to exist, but the freedom of expression is a right conditioned and depended on the causes and results of the rights of others. Thus, the violation of the presumption of innocence may not be considered as an area protected by the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Along with the constitutional norm,  Article 6 of the Ethics, developed by the Independent Association of Journalists of Georgia, which after having been signed became a binding instrument, provides for the respect of human rights according to which "it is unjustifiable to make biased comments or assessments in a report on a criminal detection, investigation or trial". “A person suspected of committing a crime, or an accused, convicted may not be presented as guilty until the commission of a crime by him/her has been proved in accordance with the law and a final court judgment of conviction has been rendered." 

The standards of coverage of crime and antisocial behavior are set by the decree of the Georgian National Communications Commission approving the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters where the whole Chapter is dedicated to the standards of coverage of crime and antisocial behavior. 

We call on

Georgian authorities:

  • Respect fundamental human rights and freedoms, including, in particular, the right of the accused to the presumption of innocence;
  • Authorities should refrain from populist assessments and comments and from the use of specific human rights for political purposes. 
  • Authorities should make statements in support of human rights and publicly condemn violations of the presumption of innocence. 
To media outlets:

  • Not to call a person guilty even if a representative of state authorities violates the presumption of innocence;
  • The dissemination of information about the accused may lead to an increased risk of aggression in the public towards the accused as well as his/her related persons. Consequently, the media must acknowledge the risks posed by the dissemination of information about the accused. The media should provide the coverage of the case without prejudice to the culpability of the accused;
  • Take all reasonable measures to avoid an unjustified damage to human reputation. 

Human Rights Center
Media Institute