Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, has become embroiled in public row with several of his former employees from prisons’ monitoring unit after the latter accused human rights ombudsman of trying to paper over some of their reports criticizing situation in the penitentiary; in response the Public Defender accused former employees of “negligence” and an attempt to discredit him.
Natia Imnadze, who led prisons’ monitoring unit known as the National Preventive Mechanism at the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) since 2009, was sacked by the Public Defender last week. Her deputy Otar Kvatchadze was also fired. Three out of five remaining employees of the unit filed for resignation in protest.
On November 11 Imnadze convened a press conference and told journalists that she and her deputy were sacked by the Public Defender because of “our objective assessments of situation in the penitentiary system.”
“We were demanding making public certain issues and for that reason we were often having a dispute with [PDO] leadership,” said Imnadze, who was joined at the news conference by other former employees of PDO who filed for resignation.
She alleged that Public Defender Nanuashvili, who is reporting directly to the Parliament, is “not independent” and is “confined” in his actions by “apparently being informally accountable before certain individuals in the government.”
“I have such an impression, because he was not keen to speak openly about certain problems,” Imnadze said.
Although she declined to specify directly, Imnadze made an allusion to minister in charge of the penitentiary system, Sozar Subari.
Subari, who was Public Defender in 2004-2009 and whose advisor in 2006-2008 was Imnadze, told Rustavi 2 TV when asked about recent dismissals in PDO that although situation in prisons is much better now, number of complaints filed by the monitoring unit increased drastically at the expense of making, as he put it, bizarre complaints about half an hour delays in serving meal to inmates in some jails. He said for some reasons the unit was not scrutinizing prison system to such degree “let’s say in 2011 when inmates were actually beaten to death.”
Imnadze said that these remarks by Subari were demonstrating that her dismissal was due to her and her team’s active monitoring activities.
Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, who convened a press conference few hours later, dismissed Imnadze’s allegations that he dismissed her in response of her criticism of the situation in the penitentiary as “absurd, bewildering and insolent”, which, he said, aims at “deliberate discrediting of the Public Defender and misleading public.”
Nanuashvili said that he had to fire Imnadze and her deputy after multiple warnings over their “negligence”, “failure to observe working discipline” and “ignorance of Public Defender’s instructions”, fell on deaf ears.
“In some cases they were compiling irrelevant proposals and letters referred to the penitentiary department,” Nanuashvili said. “Despite of Public Defender’s multiple verbal warnings they continued uncoordinated work without providing information to the Public Defender about situation in the penitentiary system.”
Natia Imnadze said that first time when she was reproved by PDO leadership was in April, 2013 when she gave an interview to the Tbilisi-based media outlet, Liberali, in which she voiced allegations about makurebeli in prisons (a Georgian word that can be translated as watcher or observer) – a group of influential prisoners informally overseeing and controlling other inmates, usually with tacit acceptance from prison administration.
Nanuashvili said that Imnadze’s interview was not prior agreed with PDO. He said that if there is any problem in the penitentiary, he should be learning about it through being briefed by PDO employees in person and not via their media interviews.
In other allegations, Imnadze said that PDO leadership wanted to conceal and even remove from the electronic data base of the office a report compiled by her unit, criticizing installation of surveillance cameras in cells of prison No.7.
Nanuashvili said that the report was based on a complaint of only one inmate from that prison and asked Imnadze to gather additional information, but, Nanuashvili said, he received no updates from former head of the monitoring unit. He also claimed that when he asked Imnadze again about the issue, she told him that the prison administration violated no law by installing surveillance cameras in the cells.
One more allegation voiced by Imnadze is related to death of a 24-year-old inmate in May, 2013, who was brutally beaten up by other inmates, allegedly by makurebelis; up to ten persons, including inmates and four Geguti prison employees were arrested in early August in connection to the incident. Imnadze said that when she told the Public Defender that the prosecutor’s office was not doing enough to thoroughly investigate the case, Nanuashvili left the issue without any reaction. But Nanuashvili said that when he asked Imnadze in late July to update him over the case, she “showed irresponsibility” and did not brief him.
When asked on some other allegations, including from former employees of PDO’s prisons’ monitoring unit that they were once purportedly told by leadership “to stop running around prisons” for monitoring purposes, Nanuashvili responded: “I cannot comment on all kind of nonsense.”
He also said that he will make no further public comment on the matter; let the court now decide, he said, whether his decision to sack Imnadze and her deputy was legal.
Imnadze said that she plans to file a lawsuit in court against her firing.