A senior lawmaker from the Georgian Dream (GD) ruling coalition, Tamaz Mechiauri, has been accused by rights groups of “legitimizing” goals of those behind sex tape blackmail after he said that high-ranking officials against whom “compromising materials exist” should quit.
MP Mechiauri, chairman of parliamentary committee for budget and finances, who a week earlier made headlines for using a homophobic slur, said on March 24 when speaking about sex tapes, released anonymously online and purportedly showing politicians, that “those who now hold high-ranking offices… and those who have an ambition to hold such positions in the future and against whom such compromising materials exist” should quit; he also said that “people, who can be blackmailed, should not be holding high-ranking offices.”
Some, not all, GD lawmakers, tried to distance themselves from this position of Mechiauri, who reiterated the same stance over the issue in an interview with Tbilisi-based TV Pirveli on March 25.
He was backed by leader of opposition Democratic Movement party, Nino Burjanadze, who also said that “those politicians against whom compromising materials exist should quit.”
Three politicians – two cabinet members and one opposition figure, as well as a TV journalist, were threatened on March 14 with releasing secretly recorded videos of their private lives. The threat was made in a form of a released sex tape of unidentified individuals, posted anonymously on YouTube with the text on the video threatening three politicians and a TV journalist to quit their professional activities before March 31.
The video and the threat came few days after a separate sex tape, purportedly showing one of the opposition politicians, was anonymously posted on YouTube on March 11.
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A campaign group, This Affects You, uniting over dozen of civil society organizations, which held a protest rally on March 19 against sex tape blackmail, condemned MP Mechiauri in a statement on March 25 and said that his remarks “actually represent legitimization of this crime”, making him an “accomplice to actions aimed at blackmailing specific individuals and the public.” The campaign group also said that such remarks “encourage” sex tape blackmail and also “cast a shadow over statements made by the head of the government, prosecutor’s office and other high-ranking officials about the need for effective investigation of these cases.” The campaign group also called on the MP to apologize for his remarks.
But MP Mechiauri repeated his stance when he was interviewed by TV Pirveli’s news program, hosted by a journalist Inga Grigolia, who was among the targets of the sex tape blackmail; Grigolia responded to blackmailers live from her TV program on the same day, March 14, by saying that such blackmails will not silence her.
MP Mechiauri suggested that those high-ranking officials against whom “compromising materials” exist should either come out publicly and say that they will not yield to blackmail or resign as they may potentially pose a threat to country’s security.
“Lots of intelligence agencies are working against us, including those of our neighboring countries, especially the one from the North. Can’t such tapes be used for blackmail? No one is banning anyone from having a [private] life, but such [officials] should be strong enough to come out and say: ‘I had something, but no one can exert influence on me to commit an action against my country’,” MP Mechiauri said.
“If there are such materials through which it is possible to blackmail high-ranking office holders, including those with access to secret information and with power of decision-making that may harm the country’s interest, I think they should sideline themselves from the government,” he added.
Ex-speaker of Parliament and leader of opposition Democratic Movement party, Nino Burjanadze, said in an interview with the Tbilisi-based Imedi TV on March 25 that she was “astonished” by criticism directed against MP Mechiauri.
“Private life is untouchable. But politicians’ situation is special one,” she said. “I am astonished by the reaction from part of the society caused by the remarks of Mr. Mechiauri. He was slammed for daring to say that if there are serious compromising [materials] against some politicians – be it related to private life or some other type of serious compromising material – they should quit. Of course they should [quit]; should not they? Any kind of compromising [material] can be used for manipulating a person… and it is possible to blackmail persons through such materials and force them to take a decision, which otherwise they would have taken.”
“Those people, who apply this moral terror [through sex tape blackmail], should be punished… But on the other hand, of course those politicians against whom compromising materials exist should quit,” Burjanadze said.
Meanwhile on March 25, activists from This Affects You campaign group rallied outside the Prosecutor’s Office calling for an effective and prompt investigation into sex tape blackmail.
Two weeks after the tapes were released “we still don’t know if the investigation has any tangible results,” said head of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association Ana Natsvlishvili.
“We think that the Prosecutor’s Office is passive. We are not saying that they are not willing to investigate this case, but we think that they should be more effective in the investigation,” head of the Transparency International Georgia, Eka Gigauri, said.