Public Defender Responds to Threatening Statements Made by Georgian Dream Chairman

Published in Society
Monday, 13 December 2021 12:12

The Public Defender of Georgia would like to respond to the statement made by Irakli Kobakhidze, Chairman of the Georgian Dream political movement of citizens, in which he speaks about the possible responsibility of the Public Defender and doctors invited by her. This rhetoric goes beyond the legal framework, represents an attempt to attack and intimidate an independent constitutional body and its experts, and contradicts national and international human rights obligations.

The Organic Law on the Public Defender of Georgia gives the Public Defender the authority to invite experts and specialists to perform expert activities. This very authority was used by the Public Defender of Georgia on November 16, 2021 and a multidisciplinary group of experts was set up to evaluate Mikheil Saakashvili's medical services. Since then, the Chairman of the Georgian Dream political movement has been referring to "possible future responsibility" of the Public Defender and the experts invited by her without any legal arguments, for some abstract reasons. The above represents an attempt to put pressure on representatives/experts of the Public Defender of Georgia due to expression of their professional views, which is contrary to both the Constitution of Georgia and international principles.

We call on the United Nations, Council of Europe, OSCE/ODIHR, diplomatic missions accredited in Georgia and ombuds/NHRI associations to study the above issue and assess it within their mandates. Contrary to the Paris Principles (https://bit.ly/3HzC8NK), the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers on national human rights institutions (https://bit.ly/3DuL1G1) and the Venice Principles (https://bit.ly/30ve39L), the Public Defender of Georgia encounters obstacles in the implementation of her mandate, while experts may refuse to cooperate with the Public Defender in the future.

Once again, we would like to thank the qualified and conscientious medical professionals who managed to make an assessment in a short time. We also call on the relevant professional associations to support these persons.

Public Defender’s Statement on International Human Rights Day

Published in Society
Friday, 10 December 2021 17:23

Every year, on December 9, the Public Defender of Georgia traditionally joins the celebration of the International Human Rights Day.

On December 9, 2021, the Tbilisi Human Rights House held an event on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, where Public Defender Nino Lomjaria once again emphasized the special role of human rights defenders in promoting human rights and the rule of law in a democratic society.

The Public Defender spoke about the challenges facing human rights defenders, reviewed the Human Rights Manual developed by the Public Defender’s Office, which aims to refine the definition of a human rights defender and to outline the obligations of the State to protect and promote the activities of human rights defenders.

"Our monitoring has revealed a number of unfortunate trends of attacks on human rights defenders. Among them, statements made by high officials aimed at discrediting NGOs working on issues of crucial importance for democratic development still need to be emphasized. We have criticized a number of similar cases in the past,[1] and we reiterate that, by international standards, officials are obliged to refrain from being engaged in negative campaigns against human rights defenders and their activities, to publicly acknowledge the need to protect them and to emphasize the importance of their activities even when critical towards the authorities", - said Nino Lomjaria.

The Public Defender called the physical attacks by the violent groups on human rights defenders and the offices of Tbilisi Pride and Shame Movement on July 5, the day of the March of Dignity, which could not be prevented by the law enforcers, especially alarming. She spoke about the criminal acts committed against media representatives and the need for their timely and effective investigation.[2] The scale of the problem was made even clearer by the events of July 5, during which more than 40 representatives of the media were injured. Reports of alleged criminal acts against media representatives were also spread during both rounds of the self-government elections.

According to the Public Defender, the cynical attitude of politicians towards journalists, especially representatives of critical media, and the discrediting campaign[3] against the background of the existing hostile environment, further exacerbate violence against them.

At the end of her speech, the Public Defender addressed the Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia with a recommendation to ensure the timely investigation of crimes committed against representatives of the media, to identify those responsible and to take measures against them in accordance with law, as well as to inform the public about the ongoing investigation.

She also called on political officials to follow internationally recognized democratic standards and to refrain from being engaged in campaigns aimed at discrediting human rights defenders, including journalists, in order to facilitate their work as much as possible.


[1] Parliamentary Report of the Public Defender of Georgia 2019, p. 251, available at: <https://bit.ly/3CJscy1> [09.12.2021]; See also the statement of the Public Defender of Georgia of October 24, 2018 on the International obligations of the Government to support the activities of human rights defenders, available at: <https://bit.ly/3kBAySa> [09.12.2021]

[2] Statements of the Public Defender of Georgia are available on the website: <https://bit.ly/3CDI58Z>, <https://bit.ly/3AAGtMN>, <https://bit.ly/3lLqiWG>, , <https://bit.ly/2W3IlOX> [23.09.2021].

[3] Information is available on the website: <https://bit.ly/3yajvM8>, <https://bit.ly/3EwXSHX>, <https://bit.ly/3lCyQzZ>, <https://netgazeti.ge/news / 555767 />, <https://bit.ly/3oy0qQw> [09.12.2021].

 

Georgian politicians should fully respect the independent mandate of the Public Defender

Published in Politics
Wednesday, 24 November 2021 13:31

Strasbourg, 23 November 2021 - "Public attacks by members of the Georgian Parliament against the Public Defender of Georgia, in connection with her and her Office’s work related to the imprisonment of the former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, and his hunger strike, are unacceptable", said today Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović. 

"I commend the Public Defender and her Office for their efforts to uphold the highest possible standards of protection of the human rights of all individuals over whom the Georgian authorities exercise jurisdiction.

This issue was high on my agenda during the meeting I had yesterday in Strasbourg with the Chairman of the Georgian Dream Party, Irakli Kobakhidze, and the Chair of the Committee on European Integration in the Georgian Parliament, Ms Maka Botchorishvili.

Under the Venice Principles, member states are obliged to effectively protect their Ombudsman institutions from any threats or action aiming at or resulting in any hurdles to their effective functioning. I call on the Georgian authorities to ensure that the Public Defender, her office and associated experts can operate in a climate that is conducive to them carrying out their mandate independently, effectively and safely, in line with the Recommendation (2021)1 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the development and strengthening of effective, pluralist and independent national human rights institutions.

It is crucially important first and foremost for all citizens of Georgia but also for Georgia’s international partners, including the Council of Europe, to be able to count on the expertise of an Ombudsman institution which is able to discharge its works independently and effectively, in full compliance with international standards, including the Paris Principles and the Venice Principles. I look forward to discussing this and other human rights issues during my forthcoming visit to Georgia in February next year."

Source: https://bit.ly/3xeG7ud

Public Defender Demands Mikheil Saakashvili’s Involvement in His Trial

Published in Justice
Wednesday, 17 November 2021 11:10

Restricting the 3rd President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, from participating in his own trial grossly violates the right to a fair trial enshrined in the Constitution of Georgia and the European Convention.

Mikheil Saakashvili has not been allowed to appear before court three times since his arrest. In all three cases, the Special Penitentiary Service refused to bring Mikheil Saakashvili to court and the court endorsed the refusal without critical deliberation.

The Penitentiary Service named (1) the refusal of a substantial part of treatment by Mikheil Saakashvili and (2) the investigation being carried out by the State Security Service as reasons for refusing to bring the defendant to court.

First of all, it is noteworthy that an abstract reference to the fact that the transfer of the prisoner due to his hunger strike would be a risk to his health cannot be considered as a substantiated argument. This will virtually deprive all prisoners that are on hunger strike of the opportunity to participate in their own judicial proceedings and exercise their right to a fair trial. Moreover, legislation reviews the protocol of action in a similar case and requires that, in case of health risks, the accused be accompanied by a medical worker during transfer.[1]

As for the refusal to transfer Mikheil Saakashvili to court for the so-called security reasons, it is noteworthy that the procedural law does not provide for such an opportunity. The subordinate normative act explicitly and unequivocally states that an accused/convicted person shall be escorted to court at the request of the relevant authorized person of common courts, which does not require additional decision-making.[2]

In addition, legislation does not recognize the possibility for the Penitentiary Service to refuse to transfer an accused person to court due to a pending investigation into any case. It should be noted that the maximum statute of limitations for the investigation carried out by the State Security Service is ten years.[3] This allows the Penitentiary Service to illegally, arbitrarily and permanently refer to the investigation ongoing in the State Security Service, which would be a de facto annulment of the defendant’s right of defence.

In addition, the European Court of Human Rights considers that security issues must be clearly defined and meet the criteria of necessity. Judges should consider all possible alternatives to ensure safety and security and give preferencetoa less strict measureover a stricter one when it can achieve the same purpose.[4] Guarantees of a fair trial and public hearing are considered violated when the domestic court fails to explain why the state security system would not be able to deal with the security risks.[5]

Thus, the Public Defender believes that at this moment there is no proper argument on the basis of which Mikheil Saakashvili should be restricted from appearing before court in person. The position presented by the Special Penitentiary Service cannot outweigh the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia and the European Convention on Human Rights, which among other guarantees includes the right of the accused to personally and directly participate in oral, public hearings, with full observance of the principles of equality of arms, adversarial process and examination of evidence.

The Public Defender calls on the Special Penitentiary Service to properly and conscientiously perform its rights and duties and ensure that Mikheil Saakashvili is brought before court, by providing appropriate guarantees for his health and safety. The Public Defender also calls on the court to give the accused the opportunity to state his position, participate in the examination of evidence and protect his rights within the framework of all three ongoing cases.


[1] Order No. 149 of the Minister of Corrections of Georgia on the Approval of the Rules for Escorting/Transferring Defendants/Convicts, 19.10.2015, Annex No. 1, Article 37

[2] Order No. 149 of the Minister of Corrections of Georgia on the Approval of the Rules for Escorting/Transferring Defendants/Convicts, 19.10.2015, Annex No. 1, Article 4, suparagraph 4.

[3] Part 1 of Article 315, part 3 of Article 12, subparagraph "c" of part 1 of Article 71 of the Criminal Code of Georgia and Article 103 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia.

[4] Riepan v. Austria, 35115/97, paragraphs 28-29; Krestovsky v. Russia, 14040/03, paragraph. 29.

[5] Krestovsky, 29-30; Luchaninova v. Ukraine, 16347/02, 56-57.

Public Defender Visits Mikheil Saakashvili in Medical Establishment No.18 of Penitentiary Service

Published in Politics
Tuesday, 09 November 2021 11:27

On November 8, 2021, Public Defender Nino Lomjaria visited third President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, who was transferred to Medical Establishment No. 18 of the Penitentiary Service, Public Defender reports.

At the meeting, Mikheil Saakashvili told the Public Defender that he had no information about his transfer to Establishment No. 18, as he was informed at Establishment No. 12 that he would be transferred to a multifunctional civil clinic on the basis of the decision of the medical council, which he agreed to.

It should be noted that representatives of the Public Defender's Office visited Establishment No. 12 as well, where they could not find any document about provision of information to Mikheil Saakashvili or his consent relating to his transfer to Establishment No. 18.

Speaking to the Public Defender, Mikheil Saakashvili explained that despite his refusal, he was forcibly placed in Establishment No. 18. The Public Defender's Office immediately informed the State Inspector's Office about the above for the purpose of launching an investigation.

Particular attention should be paid to the environment in which Mikheil Saakashvili is placed, which grossly violates human rights. In particular, insulting and threatening shouts by prisoners of Establishment No. 18 are heard against Mikheil Saakashvili, which can be heard in Saakashvili's cell as well and clearly represents psychological pressure. Upon entering the penitentiary facility, voices of insult were heard by the Public Defender and her representatives. It is highly probable that a similar situation will continue and Mikheil Saakashvili's lawyers and other visitors will be subjected to similar verbal aggression.

The Public Defender has repeatedly stated in her statements that the transfer of the prisoner from Establishment No. 12 to Establishment No. 18 would lead to the disorganization of Establishments Nos. 8 and 18 due to the significant risk of verbal aggression, noise and harassment.

It should be noted that the Public Defender's Office checked the documents on the admission of prisoners to Establishment No. 18, as a result of which it was established that no other inmates of Establishment No. 12, except Mikheil Saakashvili, have been admitted to this facility since January 18, 2021. Information about the period before January 18, 2021 is yet unknown due to the inability to access the special archive at night hours.

Public Defender Checks Readiness of Medical Establishment No.18 for Mikheil Saakashvili’s Admission

Published in Society
Monday, 25 October 2021 11:37

On October 24, 2021, Public Defender’s representatives checked the readiness of Medical Facility No. 18 for the possible admission of the third President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. The inspection revealed that the situation in the facility, in terms of medical care, does not fully comply with the report or recommendations issued by a multifunctional group of doctors on October 23, 2021, and there are also some safety risks.

Representatives of the Public Defender examined the readiness of the facility in terms of provision of the medical services indicated in the report of the multifunctional group of doctors. The report refers to specific medical interventions and the transfer of Mikheil Saakashvili to a medical facility capable of providing the above services.

Interviews with the administration and medical staff of Medical Facility No. 18, as well as inspection of infrastructure and medical equipment, revealed that the facility has the necessary resources to meet the medical needs of prisoners (including hunger strikers). However, the report issued by the multifunctional group of doctors regarding the medical needs of Mikheil Saakashvili directly refers to the need of implementation of certain medical procedures, which, unfortunately, is impossible to be provided in Facility No. 18. For example, the facility cannot provide magnetic resonance imaging, computerizedtomography or duplex scanning. In addition, the facility does not currently have a resuscitationspecialist, but according to the administration, the relevant specialists are expected to be employed in the near future.

The monitoring made it clear that Facility No. 18 will not be able to provide the medical services indicated by the multifunctional group of doctors and Mikheil Saakashvili will need to be transferred to a civil clinic periodically. Given the fact that it is virtually impossible to fully predict changes in the health condition or aggravation of health of the prisoner who has long been on hunger strike, there may be quite severe or irreparable consequences during the patient's transfer in case of a critical change in the situation.

It should be noted that the Public Defender's detailed review of the lack of medical staff and medical services in Facility No. 18 is provided in the 2020 Report of the National Preventive Mechanism.[1]

In addition to medical services, the Public Defender's Office inspected the ward in which Mikheil Saakashvili is planned to be placed in case of his transfer to Facility No. 18. It should be noted that Penitentiary Establishment No. 12 accommodates prisoners who have conflict of interest with other prisoners (former police officers, military servicemen, officials). Consequently, any kind of contact with other prisoners poses security risks that the penitentiary establishment must avoid, otherwise there will be a violation of prisoner's rights.

All the locations, where the third President of Georgia may have to stay/move to (during admission to the facility, placement in a ward, meeting with lawyers or family members, enjoyment of the right to walk, provision of medical care, making telephone calls, daily/hygienic procedures), were checked during the monitoring on October 24, 2021 and it was found out that although the administration of the facility expresses its readiness to ensure the safety of any prisoner, there are certain risks with respect to Mikheil Saakashvili. The infrastructure and environment fail to exclude the risk of verbal aggression and noise, verbal abuse and psychological pressure by certain groups of prisoners. It will also be problematic for visitors to visit Mikheil Saakashvili, as any entrant, including lawyers, will have to walk through the yard of Facility No. 8, close to buildings where other prisoners are placed, which increases the risk of verbal confrontation and abuse. A similar incident was reported at Facility No. 8 in 2015.

Since it is necessary to go through the yard of Facility No. 8 to get to Facility No. 18 and since Facility No. 18 is located close to the residential buildings of Facility No. 8, we believe that there are risks regarding prisoners’ safety and disorganization of these two facilities. These threats may impede the peace of the prisoners and staff of these facilities, the proper functioning and order of the facilities, which will ultimately affect the situation of all prisoners.

In view of all of the above, as well as the report of the multifunctional group of doctors, we believe that the Ministry of Justice/Special Penitentiary Service should select an alternative medical facility, where it will be possible to provide full and adequate medical services and security for the third President of Georgia. 

Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia

 

Public Defender’s Statement on Mikheil Saakashvili's Detention Conditions

Published in Society
Thursday, 14 October 2021 11:56

The Public Defender's Office has visited the third President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who is placed in Penitentiary Establishment No. 12, several times. We have been observing in detail the state of his health and conditions in the penitentiary establishment. We have intensive communication with the administration of the penitentiary system, as well as medical personnel, regarding Saakashvili’s health condition, with the consent of the latter.

It should be noted that no breaches have been reported so far in terms of provision of living conditions for the third President; adequate attention is paid to him by the medical staff of the penitentiary facility.

At the same time, the Public Defender of Georgia would like to respond to the information spread by the Special Penitentiary Service about Mikheil Saakashvili's health condition (blood pressure, pulse, saturation, glucose) and other personal data (items purchased by him). While it is clear that there is a high public interest in the health condition of the third President of the country, the agency has an obligation to inform the public only within reasonable limits. Health-related information belongs to special category data and its disclosure in detail, without the permission of the person concerned, poses a risk of violation of the law on the one hand and may contribute to the prisoner’s distrust towards the penitentiary system on the other hand, including towards the medical personnel.

The issuance of such statements by the Penitentiary Service or high political officials poses an additional risk that the prisoner, who is on a hunger strike, may also refuse to receive medical care. Therefore, we negatively evaluate any statement that pushes the prisoner to resort to a more severe form of hunger strike and further aggravates his health condition.

The Public Defender's Office will continue to monitor the rights situation of the third President of Georgia and will periodically provide information to the public.

Public Defender Demands Criminal Prosecution of Two Persons for Organizing Group Violence and Calling for Violence on July 5

Published in Justice
Monday, 06 September 2021 14:18

Two months have passed since the violent events of July 5, but the Georgian Prosecutor's Office has not launched criminal prosecution against any individual for organizing group violence. The Public Defender Nino Lomjaria examined the video footage[1] released by the media and considers that the publicly available evidence reaches the standard of probable cause for launching criminal proceedings against two persons for organizing group violence as well as for publicly calling for violence.

Pursuant to Article 21 (c) of the Organic Law of Georgia on the Public Defender of Georgia, the Public Defender is entitled to request the initiation of an investigation and/or criminal prosecution if the examination of the case shows elements of crime. Accordingly, the Public Defender has already used the authority granted by the organic law and applied to the Prosecutor's Office with a request to initiate criminal proceedings against Zurab Makharadze and Spiridon Tskipurishvili.

The proposal to launch prosecution was based on publicly released videos showing that before the July 5 violence, on Alt-Info TV, Zurab Makharadze and other individuals had been continuously announcing violence against participants in the event planned by Tbilisi Pride. Violent calls were also heard against journalists. The same individuals spread information on television about the formation of groups with the direct purpose of violence on July 5.

It is substantiated in the Public Defender’s proposal that Zurab Makharadze personally led the group violence on July 5, including the removal of protest tents in front of the legislative body and the allocation of various groups to raid the offices of the Shame Movement and Tbilisi Pride.

Finally, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia, 53 persons were identified as victims of the group violence on July 5, 2021, and criminal proceedings were launched against 27 persons. However, no one has been prosecuted for organizing group violence.

In addition, the Public Defender made another proposal to the Prosecutor General's Office and demanded the launch of criminal proceedings against Spiridon Tskipurishvili for publicly calling for violent actions. It was established according to the standard of probable cause that on July 5, at about 14:14, the Archpriest of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Spiridon Tskipurishvili, by using a microphone and sound enhancer devices, called on citizens to be violent, thus went beyond the freedom of expression and committed an action forbidden by Article 2391 of the Criminal Code of Georgia – call for violence that creates an obvious, direct and substantial threat of violence.

The Public Defender continues to gather information about the investigation ongoing into the July 5 violence and, if necessary, will again use the authority given to her by the organic law.

Source: https://www.ombudsman.ge/eng/akhali-ambebi/sakhalkho-damtsveli-5-ivliss-jgufuri-dzaladobis-organizebisa-da-dzaladobisken-motsodebis-faktebze-2-piris-mimart-siskhlissamartlebrivi-devnis-datsqebas-moitkhovs

Far-Right Groups Massively Attack Journalists

Published in Society
Monday, 05 July 2021 17:29

At least twenty journalists have been attacked by hate groups gathered in a counter-rally against today’s Tbilisi Pride March, according to the latest media reports.

Those attacked include journalists and cameramen from television channels TV Pirveli, Formula TV, Rustavi 2, Imedi TV, Georgian Public Broadcaster, Mtavari Arkhi and online media outlets On.ge, Netgazeti and Tabula, reports say.

TV Pirveli said counterprotesters smashed its equpments, while Tabula Magazine noted its journalist Mako Jabua was hit by a stick. Several journalists reportedly sustained various degrees of injuries.

The Interior Ministry said it has launched investigations into cases of interference with journalist’s professional activities (Article 154, Criminal Code) and violence (Article 126). The statement did not specify how many incidents have taken place.

The statement also called on Tbilisi Pride activists not to hold the March “in an open public space” because of the “scale” of the ongoing counter-rally.

Parliament Speaker Kakha Kuchava said “violence is inadmissible and I particuparly condemn violence against journalists and in general, media representatives.”

“The situation poses a real threat to the life and health of representatives of the media and hampers their journalistic activities,” stated the Public Defender of Georgia following the attacks.

Ombudsperson Nino Lomjaria called on the law enforcement agencies to “use legal mechanisms” to remove alleged offenders from public spaces, and reminded the state authorities of their constitutional obligation to protect freedom of peaceful expression and assembly “including by responding to counter-demonstrators’ violent actions.”

Source: https://civil.ge/archives/430551

Meeting between Public Defender and US Ambassador

Published in Politics
Tuesday, 23 March 2021 11:44

On March 22, 2021, Nino Lomjaria, Public Defender of Georgia, met with Kelly Degnan, Ambassador of the United States of America to Georgia.

The topic of discussion was the situation of human rights in Georgia. The Public Defender also spoke about the challenges faced by the Office, especailly in recent months, and the obstacles that hinder the full implementation of the Public Defender's mandate, for example when paying visits to semi-open prisons.

"Another visit paid by the US Ambassador to the Public Defender’s Office once again confirms the support that has been constantly expressed by the US Government to our Office," Nino Lomjaria said.

“It was a very informative meeting. It's important to have conversations with the Public Defender and find out what they are working on. It is an essential part of a strong democracy to have a Public Defender's Office that is defending the human rights of all the people of Georgia, working to keep transparency and accountability and democracy strong. I was very sorry to hear that there have been some attacks against the Public Defender's Office. That kind of hate speech is a toxic language, especially against an office that is serving the public in such an important way.

The Public Defender's Office also plays such an important role in keeping public officials accountable, something that Georgia needs to do more; more accountability, more transparency and less hate speech and vicious attacks against others“, the US Ambassador said after the meeting.

Public Defender of Georgia

 

 

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