TBILISI, DFWatch -The Georgian ombudsman criticizes a control body overseeing the financing of political parties for having violated civil rights.
Earlier this year, there began to come reports about a wave of interrogations in parts of the country outside of Tbilisi. People were being called to meet representatives of the Chamber of Control (CoC) and were questioned about their political activism. The ombudsman launched an investigation March 15, and concluded a few days ago that people’s rights had been violated.
Georgia’s CoC has responded that the financial monitoring group, which questions people, is acting within legal frames and the goal of the questioning is to observe and avoid political corruption.
Parliamentary elections are coming up in October. Parts of the legislation were amended, granting new authority to the CoC to monitor the financial activity of political parties. The changes also applies a number of restrictions and prohibitions to political parties and how they receive donations and financing.
Legal and individual persons are also prohibited from financing political parties, while there is a limit for how much ordinary citizens may donate to a party.
The way these new rules have been enforced has been strongly criticized among critics of the regime, and a few days ago also the ombudsman, or Public Defender, followed suit. His report concluded that the Chamber should start disciplinary measures against employees whose actions restrict the rights and freedom of citizens.
“A number of specific violations of rights were observed by the Public Defender, a number of which was caused by the lack of a systematized legislative basis; and a number of law violations by CoC employees.”
The Public Defender’s letter to CoC describes the procedures for questioning. Citizens were checked by police before entering the room for questioning. They weren’t allowed to bring with them a phone and other things, while their layers, if allowed to go in at all, weren’t allowed to bring a bag and documents for the interrogation session.
Another problem is that the letter which calls on citizens to come and be questioned is vague.
“On the one hand it says that a person has the right (not obligation) to give an explanations, on the other hand, there was an indication about that it was obligatory to give explanation.”
The document didn’t properly specify the address of where the questioning would take place, nor the status of the person who was called on, as well as other details.
A majority of those questioned were interrogated outside of working hours, which caused their concern and many of them reported that the questioning started hours after the scheduled time, which created discomfort; and that they were subject to thorough body searches with hands and metal detectors by police at the entrance. They were asked to take off their shoes, and their belongings were taken away and kept until they left. The Public Defender writes that these actions clearly exceed the authority of the security guards – which are a branch of the police – in the administrative buildings.
The Public Defender writes that the cases studied showed that a majority of citizens and their lawyers claimed that mostly the CoC’s interrogators demanded to know a type of information which had nothing in common with the issue they had been called in to talk about.
They were asked about their personal beliefs and political views.
“Lawyers claimed they weren’t given the opportunity to attach remarks to their clients’ explanations, which they saw as a restriction of their activity.”
Part of those questioned reported rude and undesirable statements and communication from CoC employees.
Tina Bokuchava, Deputy Chairman of CoC today released a video statement as a response to the criticism from the Public Defender.
“The opinion of each participant in this process is very important to us; I want to say that certain renovations are already introduced to our activity, for example using modern technologies, establishing the position of consultant for citizens.”
She says that a political monitoring service was newly set up and it is important to improve its activity. She also noted that the CoC actively cooperates with the civic sector and the international community to further improve its procedures.