A female member of Georgia's parliament is vowing to fight back as another sex-tape scandal rocks the former Soviet republic just as it hoped to shed its chauvinist image following the election of the country's first female president.
Eka Beselia, a member of the ruling Georgian Dream party, became the target of what she called a "moral terror" campaign after video of her personal life, apparently taken without her knowledge, was released over the weekend.
Beselia, well-known in Georgia for her recent stance against the appointment of Supreme Court justices for life, says the videos were recorded several years ago when Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement (ENM) party ruled Georgia. She was the head of the Georgian parliament's Legal Affairs Committee until the end of December.
"You will not be able to stop me, you will not be able to silence me or make me disappear!!!" she said in a Facebook post late on January 28.
"You have awakened a new Eka in me. One who is more and more self-reliant on my beliefs, commitment, and responsibility. Who can protect a woman better than herself?" she added.
The leaked videos that spread on social media have sparked an outcry in Georgia, where illicit footage featuring influential politicians and journalists regularly surfaces despite official pledges to stop it.
The use of sex espionage is a well-honed tactic dating back to the Soviet era, with covert footage having been used against a number of public figures. In recent years, such tactics have been used in Russia and Azerbaijan.
In Georgia, Saakashvili's former government -- which ruled between 2004 and 2012 -- was accused several times of building up a massive collection of compromising videos featuring members of the opposition, 181 hours of which were publicly destroyed, though many worry hundreds of hours more still exist.
'A Message To All Women'
The timing also hits just weeks after Salome Zurabishvili, backed by billionaire and Saakashvili rival Bidzina Ivanishvili, broke the gender barrier to become the first female ever elected president of the country.
After the leak, parliament Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze called for an immediate investigation of a crime he characterized as "immoral."
"I have personally communicated with law enforcement agencies and I call on them once again to investigate this case and to investigate it fully," he told journalists on January 29.
Still, sex scandals are usually more damaging for women than for men in Georgia, where male public figures face little public backlash, if any, for their sexual relations.
"Such actions are aimed at intimidating not only the targeted recipients, but also those members of society who are critical of officials. These methods of battle are most often used against active women and are a message to all such women," the civil campaign This Affects You -- They Are Still Listening said in a statement.
"It is astonishing that the exposure of her private life suspiciously coincides with the recent criticisms Eka Beselia has made regarding the judicial process. It is distressing that...specific people are trying to stop court reforms and try to protect the clans of judges."
Like many other rights advocates, Baia Pataraia, a lawyer who runs the Georgian women's rights organization Union Sapari, views the footage release and threats as a brazen attack on women who have defied Georgia's macho culture and successfully pursued a career in a male-dominated profession.
Pataraia believes the tapes are a message for women to "think again" before entering politics.
"Private recordings are used as a political weapon against women, based on the fact that sexual freedom and a woman's private life are considered taboo," she was quoted as saying by the online news website On.ge.
Bad Old Days Live On
In the past, the ENM party that ruled Georgia under Saakashvili has pinned the blame squarely on government supporters, in particular Ivanishvili, the influential founder of Georgian Dream.
Georgian Dream officials have rejected the oft-made accusations, claiming the videos were recorded during the ENM's time in power.
"There is nothing to explain in the content that is being disseminated. The form is disgusting. The depravation of a family's coexistence and the invasion into private space with hidden cameras!!!" Beselia said in her Facebook post.
"I demand answers...from law enforcement agencies in the shortest possible time.... What is happening now? Who chose to exact revenge on me with this method? Who had this footage? Who made the illegal recordings and attempted to exert moral pressure on me?" she added.