Editor in Chief of Rezonansi Lasha Tughushi (left), Speaker of Parliament Davit Usupashvili and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. (DFWatch photo.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–The new government is not conducting illegal surveillance of citizens, but the fear people have of being tracked should be eliminated, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivansihvili said on Monday.

Georgia’s National Platform of the Eastern Partnership, which is an umbrella organization of local NGOs, on Monday organized a forum together with Open Society Georgia Foundation and the EU, with the title ‘Civil Society Against Illegal Surveillance’.

The forum was attended by the prime minister, speaker of parliament, minister of internal affairs, deputy justice minister, public defender and members of parliament, as well as representatives of media and civil society.

Lasha Tughushi, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Rezonansi, opened the forum by saying that the previous government used to illegally listen in to people’s phone conversations and use the information for political purposes.

“They had the opportunity to listen to tens of thousands of people,” he said, “they tracked not only the personal life of people, but also their political views, economic activism, etc.”

Tughushi thinks it is important now to destroy the archive of illegally gained material as soon as possible and to create guarantees that the government won’t use such measures in the future.

Prime Minister Ivanishivli said that the ideology of the previous government was to instill fear in people that they were listened to and watched all the time.

“But in fact, they didn’t even listen to 1 percent of the population. The only goal was to scare people,” he said, adding that the process has ended and the new government doesn’t do the same, but the fear remains in people and it is important to eliminate that fear.

“When we have domestic meeting inside our team, [Speaker of Parliament Davit] Usupashvili or [Minister of Interior Irakli] Gharibashvili take my phone in the other room. But I don’t have problems. I think I’m not saying anything wrong and I can repeat the same in the other day,” he said, underlining that the state cannot completely reject such methods, as in certain cases it is necessary for certain bodies to conduct surveillance, but this should be done following the law and after a decision by a court.

Usupashvili said parliament is ready to review proposed legislative drafts to improve the situation in this regard. He thinks it is possible to establish certain regulations to prohibit illegal surveillance.

Gharibashvili reminded listeners about the investigation which is in progress about this issue and said an archive of such type of information cannot be destroyed until the investigation is finished.

US Ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland said during the meeting that the US is ready to share its own experiences and support Georgia with methods of surveillance issues.

He said the most important thing is for parliament to have oversight over the special services, as well as legislative regulations and security measures.

Norland noted that Monday’s meeting was important for Georgia, but also post-soviet space, as there are many neighbor countries, where such discussions haven’t yet been held and here there is an opportunity to discuss such issues.

At the meeting, the parties agreed to hold another meeting in the future and to discuss more details. They also agreed that if a legislative draft is prepared, the new regulations shouldn’t restrict the media and freedom of expression.