May 1, 2014
At a government session held on May 1, 2014, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili made offensive statements with regard to the activities of organizations involved in the campaign “It Affects You Too – Surveillance Continues”
“The version of the bill submitted by non-governmental organizations, as well as by representatives of the United National Movement literally lead to a catastrophe and endanger proper and efficient operation of law enforcement and state security systems. In light of the fact that our country is striving to strengthen its image in the international arena and that we are making significant progress in all aspects, these organizations openly claim that citizens are still being eavesdropped on. They spend thousands, hundreds of thousands of Lari in advertisings just for undermining the image of the country… It can be called nothing but activity aimed at damaging the country’s interests. This campaign that everyone is still being eavesdropped on is a campaign directed against the state and there is no need for it at all. There is a strong political will and the practice of illegal surveillance has already been eliminated”, said the prime minister.
We, non-governmental organizations involved in the campaign “It Affects You Too”, explicitly assert that none of the facts cited in the statement of Prime Minister Gharibishvili are true. Namely,:
1. We would like to emphasize that only one legislative package against illegal surveillance and eavesdropping is being discussed in Parliament. It has been authored by: The first deputy of the Committee for Legal Affairs and member of Georgian Dream Coalition Mr. Shalva Shavgulidze, the main specialist of the same committee Mrs. Lika Sajaia, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Resonance” Mr. Lasha Tughushi and the journalist Mr. Zviad Qoridze. The bill was registered in parlament in July of the last year and throughout this period, all interested parties and the state agencies had opportunity to express their views on this initiative. Therefore, the statement made by the prime minister as if the bill was submitted jointly by non-governmental organizations and the United National Movement does not correspond to reality;
2. The non-governmental sector started discussions on illegal suveillance during the previous government, the fact of which is substantiated by the statements made by mobile operators on this issue. Unfortunately, the practice of illegal surveillance has not been eliminated under the new government. A detailed discussion on the inadmissibility of this vicious practice is given in reports prepared by Thomas Hammarberg, European Union Special Adviser on Constitutional and Legal Reform and Human Rights in Georgia. These issues are also reflected in the Report on Human Rights Practices for 2013 – US Department of State;
3. It became necessary to resume the campaign “It Affects You Too”, because despite the constructive dialogue with the Parliament, the law enforcement agencies did not want to give up their right to access to telephone conversations and personal information and to adopt the legislation based on international standards. Today, the law enforcement agencies are still conducting surveillance and eavesdropping activities by using the practice set by the previous government and most importantly, through their employees. It is noteworthy that none of the government officials has been strictly condemned for the illegal suveillance. Accordingly, the statement of the Prime Minister that “the campaign that everyone is being eavesdropped on is a campaign directed against the state and there is no need for it at all. There is a strong political will and the practice of illegal surveillance has already been eliminated” is unreasonable;
4. The Prime Minister of Georgia talked about a working group that was established a year ago and about the initiation of a new bill. It remains unclear to which working group or new bill he was reffering. We are aware of only one working group, which was created in the State Chancellery by Mr. Mindia Janelidze, in April 2014;
5. We still support the bill that entered Parliament a year ago and that has been evaluated by the European Council and the leading specialists of Europe. In this bill we have been oriented on the European practice aimed at ensuring the safety and protection of the human right to privacy. Accordingly, the statement of the Prime Minister that “this bill leads to catastrophe and endangers proper and efficient operation of law enforcement and state security systems” is an incompetent statement, as it brings into question the security system of European countries. It should be noted that this “catastrophic” project became a legislative initiative by the parliament of Georgia last year. In addition, three committees have endorsed it at the level of principle a month ago;
6. We believe that the statement of the Prime Minister is nothing but an attempt to divert public attention from the problem related to illegal suveillance and that this statement is aimed at associating the campaign with the United National Movement and thus, politicizing the non-governmental sector in the eyes of the public and discrediting the campaign;
7. Alarming assessments have been made by the Prime Minister about the activities of non-governmental organizations, as if they are aimed at “undermining the image of the country”, while the only purpose of the submitted bill is to protect the right to privacy with European standards. The rhetoric of the occupant of the highest office of the country serves to discredit non-governmental organizations and to create negative views of them. Allegations made by the Prime Minister do not correspond to the values of the legal state and cast doubt on the significance and role of public initiatives in a democratic state.