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
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 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.
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.
“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.”
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
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.
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.
22-25 February, Georgia – The President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Anders Knape, will pay an official visit to the country. Accompanied by Congress Secretary General Andreas Kiefer, the President will meet in Tbilisi with the Mayor Kakha Kaladze, the Deputy Chairman of Parliament Kakhaber Kuchava, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Lasha Darsalia, the Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure Maya Tskitishvili, and the Public Defender Nino Lomjaria. Meetings are also scheduled in Gori with the Mayor of the city and the Governor of Shida Kartli region, as well as with the Georgian Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and with the members of the Georgian delegation to the Congress.