Ambassador Kelly Degnan’s Remarks at the USAID Secure Energy Event at Kartli Wind Farm

Q-n about today’s event

Ambassador Kelly Degnan: I am here at Kartli Wind Farm to launch USAID’s program to help strengthen Georgia’s energy security. For the next five years, USAID is going to work with public and private partners to modernize Georgia’s energy infrastructure and stimulate investment in new climate-friendly clean energy sources of production. The program is also designed to promote reforms that will help make the energy sector more transparent, and more competitive. All of these will help reduce Georgia’s reliance and dependence on Russia as a source of energy. It is very important for Georgia’s energy security and the United States is very pleased, again, to be part of what we see as another important step forward in our strategic partnership with Georgia. Thank you.

Q-n about the pre-election environment.

Ambassador Kelly Degnan: It is clear that the campaign has begun and I think at this point, it is important for Parliament to start focusing on ensuring that these elections can be conducted in a free and fair manner to reduce polarization; to start ensuring that staff at the commission at the district, in the provincial and the central election commission are well-trained in new technologies that are going to be introduced and are aware of the electoral reforms that were recently adopted. The public also needs to be informed about improvements to the electoral system. And then, of course, there needs to be transparency, accountability, including in the complaints process at the end of the election so that the public can have confidence in the outcome of the vote. Thank you.

Q-n: Madam ambassador, we have been witnessing massive violence on media since the 5-6 July. It is encouraged by the government, and this has been clearly demonstrated by the recent developments, which ultimately culminated in the entering of the tax inspection in the main opposition channel. How would you assess these developments?

Ambassador Kelly Degnan:  Anyone who truly believes in democracy, understands the central role that media freedom plays in a healthy democratic system. A diverse, pluralistic, robust media is how the public stays informed to make informed decisions. They need to hear all sides of an issue, not one side or only one side. I think the attacks that we have seen on journalists on July 5th were shocking and were very concerning, especially because they were well-organized to target journalists and they were part of a pattern that we have been watching develop over the last year and a half. So, there needs to be a very clear message to those organizing these attacks against journalists and against media freedom, that there are consequences and that this will not be tolerated, and it is not acceptable. This is a constitutionally protected right in Georgia and it needs to be defended as a constitutionally protected right in Georgia. So, I hope that there will be very clear messages, going into this campaign season, that reassure journalists but also ensure that journalists can do their jobs without fear of intimidation or violence or organized attacks against them. Thank you.

Q-n: This is a follow-up question to the previous question again on the violence on journalists and that they do not feel safe to carry out their work in the streets, especially after the 5th of July events and then the perpetrators were not brought to accountability. It is also important that they are not punished. Also, Irakli Kobakhidze had announced about the tax inspection in the media outlets and three days later the tax inspection entered Mtavari Channel. Just to comment on this. And also, can we consider that the investigation is complete?

Ambassador Kelly Degnan: My understanding is that the investigations are underway. It is very good to see that individuals have been arrested, they have been investigated, but there needs to be thorough, impartial, professional investigations into these cases. We know the police here are well-trained in doing this, so I am confident that it will be done. It takes some time to investigate something like this. What is concerning is that, as far as I know, organizers of the attacks have not been arrested and since it is quite clear that these were organized targeted attacks, I think it is important, as I said, that the organizers be held to account. All of the individuals and the organizers who were involved in this attack, these vicious attacks against the media and other citizens, need to be investigated, they need to be prosecuted and where appropriate, they need to be convicted to the full extent of the law. It is very important that a clear message that violence, hate speech, organized attacks against the media and other citizens, are not acceptable in Georgia, will not be tolerated and that there will be legal consequences to pursuing that. It is very important, especially going into this campaign season, that journalists are able to do their jobs without intimidation or the threat of violence. Thank you.