Ombudsperson Says Disclosure of Her Prison Meetings ‘Illegal,’ Penitentiary Service Denies Allegations

On January 24, Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria released a statement in response to the yesterday’s “illegal public disclosure” of her recent visit to one of the penitentiary facilities in Tbilisi, which was publicized by the Special Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice.

Nino Lomjaria calls on the Prosecutor General’s Office “to immediately launch an investigation” under Article 352 of the Criminal Code on “influencing the Public Defender in any manner in order to interfere with his/her official duties.” 

On January 23, the Penitentiary Service reported that earlier that day, few minutes after 6pm, (that is the end of prison’s working day) Nino Lomjaria and her deputy Giorgi Burjanadze visited N9 penitentiary facility. 

The Penitentiary Service further noted that Lomjaria and Burjanadze met with former officials Irakli Okruashvili and Vano Merabishvili, as well as Kakhaber Nakani, convicted for a high-profile case of 2006. It also noted that the Ombudsperson required to meet with Guram Donadze as well. However, the latter refused to meet the Ombudsperson.


In the today’s statement, Nino Lomjaria noted that the Special Penitentiary Service “grossly violated the Organic Law of Georgia on the Public Defender, according to which, the Public Defender’s meeting with detainees, prisoners or other persons deprived of their liberty shall be confidential.”

“Any kind of surveillance (video or audio) is inadmissible. It is alarming that such a fact has occurred for the first time during the existence of the institution of the Georgian Public Defender,” Lomjaria stressed.

She then added that publicizing the identities of persons whom the public defender meets “increases the risk of ill-treatment of prisoners or other illegal actions and results in worsening the state of prisoners’ rights.”

Publicizing such information may force prisoners to refrain from applying and meeting with the Public Defender in the future. Following this incident, all prisoners will have suspicions that their meetings with the Ombudsperson are controlled by the Ministry of Justice/Penitentiary Service and that the details of the meetings may be publicly disclosed,” she noted.

The Ombudsperson considers that the yesterday’s statement of the Penitentiary Service “was the continuation of a campaign of political attack launched by the Minister of Justice of Georgia [Tea Tsulukiani] against the Public Defender’s institution.”

“It is dangerous and inadmissible that the Minister of Justice uses a body such as the Special Penitentiary Service, where persons with different political views are serving their sentences, for political purposes,” she added. 

Demanding “immediate legal response” over the incident, the Public Defender said “all persons, who attempted to influence the Public Defender for the purpose of interfering with her activities, should be prosecuted.”

The Special Penitentiary Service denies any violations

In a statement of January 24, the Penitentiary Service denied Lomjaria’s allegations, saying that they did not breach neither Article 352 of the Criminal Code, nor any other noted by the Public Defender. It further said that the Ombudsperson met with those inmates, whom she intended to meet, except for those who refused, and that the meetings were held in “a free environment, in full confidentiality, without any interference from the administration of the [penitentiary] facility.”

The Penitentiary Service also noted that it can neither serve as the guarantor to keep Ombudsperson’s prison visits secret from the media in practice, nor it has any legal obligation to do so. The Service stressed that, on the contrary, they are obliged to respond to questions of media, in case the latter asks them whether the Public Defender’s visits penitentiary facility or not. 

Concluding the statement, the Penitentiary Service stressed that “despite numerous requests from the inmates, the incumbent Public Defender paid no single visit to penitentiary facilities in 2019.” Then the Service said it “welcomes Ombudsperson’s yesterday’s visit to prison N9” and “expressed hope this will not be the last time she visits the inmates and that from 2020 Georgian Public Defender will positively, feasibly, respond to prisoners’ requests to meet her.”

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