Ten Georgian civil society organizations urged President Salome Zurabishvili to veto amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code adopted by the Parliament on June 7 which increased the scope of crimes that allow for covert investigative actions and the duration of these actions.
Noting that a further decline of the human rights protection standards will be “a serious setback for a democratic development of Georgia,” the signatory civil society organizations implored President Zurabishvili to “send [vetoed changes] back to the Parliament with reasoned objections.”
In the June 9 statement, the organizations noted that the amendments “notably lower the standard of human rights protection in the process of covert investigative actions.”
“The adopted bill falls well short of international norms of human rights protection and the practice of the European Court of Human Rights,” the civil society organizations added.
CSOs emphasized that the most “disturbing” amendment to the law relates to the timeframe of surveillance which has been extended in many offenses and the fact that the state is no longer liable to notify the defendant of the eavesdropping.
This means an individual under surveillance “will not be able to ever use the right of appeal, to exercise the right to a fair trial, and to defend his/her right to privacy,” the statement asserted.
The organizations further expressed concerns that the bill “renders those positive legislative changes useless, which were implemented in 2014 with the active involvement of civil society and experts from the Council of Europe.”
The signatories also brought attention to the ongoing case in the Constitutional Court in which CSOs and citizens filed a joint appeal against the legislation regulating covert investigative actions, which they say the Court has heard the merits but “has been dragging its feed to take a final decision for four years now.”
Controversial Legislative Changes
The amendments extend the maximum term of covert investigative action has increased from six to nine months while the list of crimes for which covert eavesdropping and surveillance may be conducted has been widened to include additional 27 less serious crimes.
The controversial amendments were proposed in April by ruling Georgian Dream MPs and although the final list of articles which it affects is less than initially tabled, it will still allow the authorities to indefinitely surveil an individual in relation to 77 offenses.
In the case of these 77 offenses, the obligation to notify an individual subject of spying may be postponed for years.
The list of 77 offenses includes, among others, trafficking of minors; inhuman or degrading treatment; illegal treatment of nuclear or radioactive waste, their transit or import in Georgia; involving minors in pornography creation or distribution; illicit drug trade, or the illegal distribution of psychotropic medications; the import of narcotics; crimes related to undermining the constitutional order and security, including sabotage, dissemination of state secrets, conspiracy for state coup, etc.
EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell also expressed concerns about the “rushed” bill, and called on the Georgian Parliament to “immediately ask the Venice Commission for an opinion on this piece of legislation and to follow its recommendations.”
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