About seven weeks after the state audit agency, Chamber of Control, summoned and questioned large number of activists and supporters of Bidzina Ivanishvili-led opposition coalition, the Georgian Public Defender said on May 1 that the process was carried out with violations of rights of questioned persons.
The state audit agency, which is also in charge of monitoring political finances, summoned in mid-March over hundred opposition activists and supporters in regions as part of, as the Chamber of Control said, monitoring of the opposition group’s finances. The move was condemned by local and international human rights groups. Amnesty International said on March 16 summoning of opposition activists “to answer questions relating to their political inclinations” was creating “a chilling effect.” No such cases have been reported since then.
Georgian Public Defender, Giorgi Tugushi, whose office had been studying the case since March 15, sent on May 1 a lengthy letter to the Chamber of Control detailing procedural and human rights violations in the process of summoning and questioning of activists. The Public Defender called on the Chamber of Control “to study” those cases of violations and “raise the issue of disciplinary responsibility” of the officials in question.
Deputy Head of the Chamber of Control, Tea Bokuchava, said in response to the Public Defender’s letter on May 1, that “opinion of all the stakeholders is very important for us.”
“The Chamber of Control has been working and will continue its activities [against] political corruption in frames of the law,” she said, adding that “some novelties in these activities” have already been introduced, involving increasing transparency of the process and introducing a position of “a citizens’ consultant”, as well as consultations with the civil society representatives on development of detailed guidelines for monitoring of political finances.
“Political parties’ monitoring service [at the Chamber of Control] is a new unit and it is important to proceed with improvement of its work in a constructive manner,” she said.
The Public Defender said, that it was revealed in the process of studying the case that the persons summoned for explanations to the municipal buildings were thoroughly searched by security guard both with a detector and by hand and in some cases forcing them to take off their clothes, shoes, taking away their personal belongings that “clearly goes beyond the authority of security guard hired for performing relevant functions in administrative buildings.”
“Defense lawyers were searched in a similar way; they were not allowed to bring in their handbags with legislative acts to the interrogation room that amounted to infringement of the right to defense,” Tugushi said.
He also said that “quite often” representatives of the Chamber of Control were asking questions about activists’ political views. The Public Defender said that some activists complained about rude language used by the officials during the questioning.