On January 22, Georgia’s Public Defender Nino Lomjaria issued a request addressed to the State Inspector, to examine lawfulness of Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani’s actions, as Tsulukiani publicly disclosed video footage depicting a meeting between inmates and representatives of Public Defender.
The Public Defender talked about the scales of informal governance in the penitentiary institutions, as well as health care, overcrowding, staff shortage and rehabilitation-resocialization problems.
Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who also attended the yesterday’s committee hearing, slammed the Ombudsperson’s representative involved in the monitoring, saying that “this is the Public Defender’s representative, who asks a prisoner to make coffee for him twice, then eats his chocolate, smokes his cigarette and even uses a toilet in a cell, remaining in the regime of monitoring for four hours.” Later the Justice Ministry’s Special Penitentiary Service released a relevant video.
As stated by Public Defender’s Office, Minister Tsulukiani’s actions contradicts the Organic Law on the Public Defender of Georgia which “prohibits any kind of video-audio surveillance of meetings between the Public Defender’s representatives and prisoners by the Ministry of Justice.”
The Ombudsperson adds that Order 35 signed by the Minister of Corrections sets out rules for carrying out visual and/or electronic surveillance, in addition to retaining, deleting and destroying recordings in the penitentiary establishments.
Lomjaria reckons that as video footage depicting meeting between a representative and an inmate contains “no unlawful action of any kind” and “as the purpose of archiving the video is not clear either,” Ministry of Justice committed “an unlawful action.” In addition, Lomjaria states, “the disclosure of identifiable video footage of two representatives of the Public Defender violated the requirements of the Law of Georgia on Personal Data Protection.”
The Public Defender calls on the State Inspector’s Office to assess the legality of Justice Minister’s actions and enforce sanctions at its disposal.
Nino Lomjaria further notes that “the State Inspector should examine the general practice of archiving video recordings at the Ministry of Justice and take legal measures in the event of detecting other illegal actions.”