As the country heads toward a highly contested parliamentary election, Georgia has become caught up in yet another sex-video scandal. Amidst a public outcry against the trend of using such footage to attack political opponents, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili came out on March 14 to express solidarity with those threatened by the “dark force” behind the videos and to underline that “sex and a sex life are not shameful.”
“I had, have and will have a rich sex life,” the 46-year-old president underlined in televised comments at an official meeting.
The two recordings, which appeared online on March 11 and March 14, purportedly come from a massive cache of compromising videos, allegedly maintained by the police under a succession of governments. Apparently to prevent the further dissemination of videos, access to YouTube from within Georgia was blocked for a short time on Monday.
Although Georgia is generally regarded a conservative country, public anger is directed not at the two female politicians depicted in the two recordings, but rather at the authorities, politicians and media outlets that failed to protect the identities of the individuals shown.
Civil-rights advocacy groups have called on the authorities to bring to justice those who filmed, stored and leaked these recordings.
“This is wanton blackmail of not only the individuals in these videos, but rather an attempt to keep the society at large under psychological pressure and terror, which is a direct blow to the free and fair election environment and, in general, to the democratic environment,” said Ana Natsvlishvili, director of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, a prominent rule-of-law watchdog.*
To block the video-smear campaign, local civil-society groups, media organizations and officials are maintaining a rigid silence about the identities of those featured in the videos and about the names of those government and opposition members which the videos have threatened to expose.
“[P]ublication of the recordings is in the interests of those whom the country’s stability does not suit; whom it doesn’t suit that we should head peacefully toward the elections and that the population should have the means for a free election,” commented Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee Chair Irakli Sesiashvili to Interpressnews, earlier heavily condemned for having published the link to the first, March 11 recording. It has since been removed.
After that video surfaced online, activists gathered in front of the government headquarters in Tbilisi to demand that officials put an end to the video-leaks. “Sex is not a crime!” read slogans at the rally. The protesters said that the government’s failure to investigate and prosecute properly previous cases had allowed the practice to continue.
Secretly recording private lives of prominent figures to blackmail and publicly upbraid them is seen as a KGB-style practice. In neighboring Azerbaijan, such a video notoriously targeted investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova after she reported stories that raised questions about the presidential family’s business dealings.**
In Georgia, outspoken national TV talk-show host Inga Grigolia now faces a threat from one of the released recordings that a sex video of her will be published as well. She scoffed at the threat, saying that it won’t silence her. “I have a wonderful lover, I have sex and plan to continue to live like I live,” Grigolia announced on television on March 14. “I will do everything to make sure that you who have filmed and released these videos spend your life in prison.”
The sex-tape war is expected to get worse, though, as the punching season for Georgia’s parliamentary election gets underway.
Members of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition and opposition United National Movement (UNM) have traded accusations over the videos, but many believe that both groups, the country’s two largest political formations, share the blame. The leak of videos depicting the torture of prison inmates helped bring about the downfall of the UNM in 2012. After coming to power, the Georgian Dream said it had found an entire archive of compromising videos allegedly compiled by police under the National Movement.
Under pressure from civil society groups, the government in 2013 publicly destroyed 181 hours of footage of the private lives of opposition figures. However, the videos have kept on resurfacing.
Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili, a leader of the centrist Republican Party, part of the ruling coalition, was among the influential political figures to demand a swift investigation of the latest leaks. One of the videos contained threats to expose the private life of members of the Republican Party in the next “series.”
*The Georgian Young Lawyers' Association receives funding from the Open Society Foundation Georgia. EurasiaNet.org is financed under the auspices of the Open Society Foundation-New York City, a separate part of the Open Society Foundations network.
**Khadija Ismayilova worked as a freelance reporter for EurasiaNet.org.