Public Defender’s Special Statement on Attempted Interference with and Influence on Public Defender's Activities

The Public Defender of Georgia would like to respond to the illegal public disclosure of the details of the Public Defender's meeting with inmates by the Special Penitentiary Service/Ministry of Justice on January 23, 2020.

We would like to remind everyone that the activities of the Georgian Public Defender's institution, as a constitutional body, are founded on important and fundamental principles, such as full independence from any branch of government, impartiality, objectivity and confidentiality while performing duties. The Public Defender's institution, which has existed for 25 years, operates in accordance with these very principles. Given the nature and specificity of the mandate, both the information provided to the Public Defender and other details of meetings with prisoners shall be confidential.

Apart from violating the fundamental principles, the Special Penitentiary Service/Ministry of Justice grossly violated the Organic Law of Georgia on the Public Defender, according to which, the Public Defender's meeting with detainees, prisoners or other persons deprived of their liberty shall be confidential. Any kind of surveillance (video or audio) is inadmissible. It is alarming that such a fact has occurred for the first time during the existence of the Georgian Public Defender's institution.

Publicizing the identities of persons met by the Public Defender increases the risk of ill-treatment of prisoners or other illegal actions and results in the deterioration of the prisoners’ rights situation. Publicizing similar information may force prisoners to refrain from applying and meeting with the Public Defender in the future. Following this incident, all prisoners will have suspicions that their meetings with the Public Defender are controlled by the Ministry of Justice/Penitentiary Service and that the details of the meetings may be publicly disclosed.

According to the Constitution of Georgia, creating obstacles to the activities of the Public Defender is punishable by law. According to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Public Defender serves as a national preventive mechanism in the country. Pursuant to Article 21 of the Protocol, personal data shall not be publicized without the clear consent of the interested party.

The identities of persons met by the Public Defender or his/her representatives shall be confidential and its disclosure represents interference with the Public Defender's activities for the purpose of influencing him/her and hampering his/her work. The mentioned represents an offense under Article 352 of the Criminal Code of Georgia.

Yesterday's statement was the continuation of a campaign of political attack launched by the Minister of Justice of Georgia against the Public Defender’s institution. It is dangerous and inadmissible that the Minister of Justice uses a body such as the Special Penitentiary Service, where persons with different political views are serving their sentences, for political purposes. This incident should be followed by an immediate legal response and all persons, who attempted to influence the Public Defender for the purpose of interfering with her activities, should be prosecuted.

We call on the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia to immediately launch an investigation under Article 352 of the Criminal Code of Georgia and to prosecute all the relevant persons irrespective of their official statuses.

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