Public Defender Responds to Infliction of Damage to Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses
The Public Defender has launched a survey of the infliction of damage to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Vazisubani district of Tbilisi on his own initiative.
According to the reports, at about 11:00 pm, November 23, some strangers fired the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Vazisubani settlement of Tbilisi; 15 bullets were shot in all. Nobody was injured, though the walls of the building were damaged and windows were broken. Jehovah’s Witnesses allege similar facts have occurred earlier too.
As is known, the Ministry of Internal Affairs launched a probe into the above mentioned incident under article 187 of the Criminal Code of Georgia (intentional damage to property).
The Public Defender condemns the incident that took place in the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses on 23 November and urges the law enforcement agencies to conduct prompt and effective investigation to identify and punish perpetrators. In addition, investigation should find out whether the crime was motivated by religious hatred. The Public Defender will observe the progress of the investigation.
Public Defender’s Statement on Stripping Nikanor Melia of Parliamentary Immunity
The Public Defender of Georgia calls on the Parliament of Georgia not to consent to the use of pre-trial detention against Nikanor Melia. We also call on the Prosecutor General's Office of Georgia to use the opportunities at its disposal and reconsider the decision on application of measures of restraint.
According to the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia, in order to apply a measure of restraint, it is necessary to properly substantiate its objectives and grounds. In particular, the Prosecutor’s Office must prove that a particular form of a measure of restraint is necessary, as the defendant may avoid attending the trial, hide, destroy information relevant to the case, or committ a new crime.
Violation of the measure of restraint should not be an automatic ground for ordering detention or any other strict measure. When considering the application of pre-trial detention for Nikanor Melia, the main subject of assessment should be - whether there is a need today to restrict the conduct of the defendant and whether this restriction serves the interests of justice; Moreover, more than 18 months have passed since the launch of criminal proceedings against the defendant, the investigation phase has already been completed and the case is currently being considered on its merits.
Considering that only three police officers were charged (non-custodial measures were used) with the use of excessive force against dozens of citizens and journalists during the June 20 events - the arrest of the leader of the opposition political party without proper justification of the procedural need, will be a big blow to the Georgian justice system, making it look like the practices common in non-democratic countries. And this type of international image will significantly slow down the process of western development of the country, which, along with many other benefits, implies the fundamental protection of human rights.
In view of the above, we call on the Members of Parliament to discuss and properly assess the need and necessity for the use of a measure of restraint against Nikanor Melia. At the same time, criminal prosecution and detention of leaders of opposition parties only harms the democratic image of the country and the trust in the democratic institutions of the state.
Public Defender’s Special Statement on Situation in Penitentiary Establishments
Georgian Public Defender's Nino Lomjaria Special Statement on Situation in Penitentiary Establishments:
In 2020, the Public Defender of Georgia published a special report, in which we talked about the fact that the management model of semi-open establishments was based on informal hierarchy of prisoners, where the so-called "prison watchers" provide fictitious order, which aims to silence prisoners and prevent them from talking about their problems.
The publication of this report was followed by public attacks on the Public Defender and illegal actions by the Minister of Justice and the Penitentiary Service, as a result of which, it has become not only difficult but also dangerous for the representatives of the Public Defender's Office to carry out visits and monitoring at the penitentiary establishments. In particular, in recent months, a certain group of prisoners managed by the administration of the establishments and the so-called ‘prison watchers’ have been systematically carrying out verbal attacks, threats and aggression against representatives of the Public Defender's Office.
The purpose of these illegal actions was to hamper our communication with prisoners and monitoring of the prison area. Similar cases occurred:
- On October 31, 2020, and then again, on January 14, 2021, in Ksani Establishment No. 15, when a specific group of prisoners did not allow representatives of the Public Defender to observe the realization of the right to vote or to interview the doctor of the facility. This is particularly troubling in the light of the fact that one of the inmates of Establishment No. 15 died of complications of COVID-19 a few days ago and family members of several inmates have asked us to visit inmates.
- On December 4, 2020 and January 13, 2021, in Gldani Establishment No. 8, when one and the same prisoner threatened representatives of the Public Defender's Office and requested that they stop their visit. Establishment No. 8 is a closed facility and it is noteworthy that the above-mentioned prisoner always moves around a specific area of the prison when our representatives visit the facility.
- On January 13, 2021, in Rustavi Establishment No. 17, when a specific group of prisoners behaved aggressively towards representatives of the Public Defender and requested that they stop the visit as "everything was fine" in prison.
Given the fact that representatives of the Public Defender, during their visits to prisons, face real threats from “informal governors” supported by prison administrations, the Public Defender is considering the possibility of conducting preventive monitoring visits only under additional security measures, which would naturally impede the protection of prisoners' rights effectively. Naturally, the Office will continue to hold individual meetings with prisoners.
It is the result of the influence of the so-called criminal subculture that even though about half of prisoners serve their sentences in semi-open facilities (Nos. 14, 15 and 17), unfortunately, the number of applications received from these facilities decreases year by year. In particular, out of a total of 1 384 applications received in 2020, only 57 were sent by inmates of these three prisons. The above proves the fact that, unfortunately, a number of problems encountered by prisoners cannot reach us and remain unheard due to the so-called prison subculture. Therefore, it is important for us to work proactively in semi-open facilities:
Given the existing situation, we call on:
- The Government of Georgia to take immediate measures to change the model of managing the criminal subculture in prisons;
- The Minister of Justice of Georgia to immediately raise the issue of liability of the Director General of the Penitentiary Service, as well as directors of the relevant penitentiary establishments;
- The Parliament of Georgia to study the illegal model of management of semi-open establishments, by using parliamentary oversight mechanisms, in order to enable all prisoners to address the relevant agency or organization relating to their problems and rights violations;
- The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia to launch an investigation into the cases of obstruction and threats against the Public Defender, in connection with which a proposal has already been submitted to the Prosecutor's Office.
In addition to the above, the Public Defender will provide information to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to visit Georgia to protect the prisoners’ rights.
At the same time, we would like to address Georgia's international partner countries and donor organizations that provide financial assistance to the Special Penitentiary Service - given the scale of the influence of the criminal subculture, involvement of the administration in this process and human rights abuses, it is important that the donor support be spent on substantially improving and rehabilitating this system rather than strengthening the existing vicious management model.
Public Defender’s Statement on Necessity of Holding Talks to Resolve Political Crisis
The Public Defender of Georgia calls on both the ruling party and the opposition parties participating in the elections to immediately launch negotiations in order to find a way out of the political crisis caused by the election violations.
The Public Defender, as a constitutional body supervising the protection of the right to vote in the country, considers that apart from the violent incidents that took place during the October 31 elections, use of administrative resources, control of the will of voters on the election day, and attacks on observers and representatives of the media, serious problems were observed in the process of counting votes and summing up the results. Unfortunately, the election commissions did not respond properly to the substantive violations detected in the summary protocols during consideration of complaints, which deepened public outcry and distrust in the election process.
The shortcomings identified during the October 31 elections have created a political crisis in the country. The situation is further aggravated by the severe epidemiological situation and economic crisis caused by the global pandemic. Therefore, it is important to hold negotiations with all election entities in order to agree on a common legal and political solution. It is necessary to find ways to recount the results of disputed polling stations in a transparent manner and to ensure the fair conduct of the second round.
In view of the above, we call on the ruling and opposition parties to start negotiations as soon as possible and agree on an appropriate format in order to find a way out of the crisis. At the same time, the involvement of Georgia's strategic partners as well as independent monitoring organizations should be ensured to monitor and facilitate the process.
Public Defender’s visit to Zagreb
In Zagreb, Croatia the Public Defender of Georgia Ucha Nanuashvili and the Chief Specialist of International Human Rights Law Lara Jamarauli attended International Conference, organized on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Ombudsman's Act of Croatia, by the Ombudswoman Lora Vidović.
Almost 50 representatives of the human rights institutions and organizations from the entire Europe as well as numerous guests gathered at the Conference, titled „Reclaiming human rights in Europe: How to enhance the democratic space? “which offered a chance to discuss the most current issues in this field – counter-terrorism, freedom of expression and living together, as well as the role of human rights institutions and equality bodies in preserving democracy and the rule of law.
The conference speakers included the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, director of the European Agency for Fundamental Rights Michael O'Flaherty, former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović, Chair of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions and Director of the German Institute for Human Rights Beate Rudolf, President of the International Ombudsman Institute and Ombudsman of Ireland Peter Tyndall, Chair of the European Equality Bodies Network and Executive Director of the Northern Ireland Commission for Equality Evelyn Collins, as well as the UNDP and OHCHR representatives and many others.
In addition, On the 11th of May Public Defender attended the meeting of the European Coordinating Committee (ECC) of the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI). Members of the Committee discussed administrative, management and financial issues of the Network.
The Public Defender of Georgia has been a member of the European Coordinating Committee (ECC) ENNHRI’s governing body, for the second consecutive year. ECC comprises a group of NHRIs elected from amongst ENNHRI’s members and led by its Chair. The ECC, along with ENNHRI’S Permanent Secretariat, is responsible for ENNHRI’s management and administration.
Public Defender Meets with Ambassador of Great Britain
Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili and First Deputy Public Defender Natia Katsitadze met with Justin McKenzie Smith, Ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Georgia.
The Public Defender briefed the Ambassador of the activities of the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia, as well as the main recommendations and legislative initiatives on the improvement of human rights. Other topics of discussion were: the progress of the judicial reform, the necessity for the creation of an independent investigative mechanism, the implementation of the Law on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination, the gender environment in the country, the human rights situation of people living in the conflict zones, the work of the Constitutional Commission and the initiatives submitted by the Public Defender to the Commission.
The Public Defender of Georgia and the Ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland agreed on the prospects of future cooperation.