It has been decided to delay destruction of an archive of audio and video recordings on private lives of individuals, obtained through illegal surveillance by the previous authorities, said Interior Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
He cited the need to brief media, civil society and foreign diplomats about details of the archive stored in the Interior Ministry as a reason behind this decision, saying that the public both domestically and internationally should be aware of scales of illegal state surveillance, also including gathering of “compromising materials”, which was carried out since 2004 by the previous authorities.
Garibashvili also said that this archive, combined with video recordings showing inmates’ abuse and separate videotapes depicting torture of detainees by law enforcement officers, were evidence of “systemic” crimes taking place under the previous authorities; he was in particular pointing finger at Vano Merabishvili, who was security minister in 2004 before serving as interior minister till July 2012, when he became the PM.
The data, gathered through illegal surveillance, which is stored in the Interior Ministry, contains of 12,888 computer files, according to those civil society activists who are members of a commission, established to oversee destruction of the archive.
Large portion of these data includes audio and video recordings gathered through surveillance on political parties and politicians.
Another part of the data is made up of recordings on private lives, among them secretly recorded sex videos, of broad range of individuals and public figures.
Existence of this achieve was first announced by Interior Minister Garibashvili earlier this year, saying that the recordings would have been destroyed after the investigation into illegal surveillance was completed. But after a sex video of a critic of some senior officials was leaked in early May on the internet – the video which allegedly was part of this achieve, the Interior Minister announced about intention to “immediately” destroy the achieve. First deputy interior minister, Gela Khvedelidze, who was one of the targets of corruption accusations by the man whose sex video was leaked, was accused of leaking the video and charged with privacy breach. Despite announcement at the time to “immediately” destroy the achieve, later the Interior Minister, as well as PM Ivanishvili, suggested to delay the process citing ongoing investigation; but in mid-June the ministry agreed to set up a commission with involvement of civil society representatives to oversee the process of destruction of the achieve.
On June 18 the commission, set up to oversee destruction of the archive, announced about the plan to destroy part of the archive, containing recordings of individuals’ private lives, on June 23. But the decision was revised when the commission gathered on June 21 and the process has been delayed for an unspecified period of time.
Speaking at Rustavi 2 TV’s political talk show, Position, late on June 21, Interior Minister Irakli Garibashvili said that before destroying it he would like to brief media, civil society and foreign diplomats, as well as those political parties which were targets of illegal surveillance, about the details of this archive. He stressed that the briefing would not involve showing of the recordings – only providing the information in a way that would not harm privacy rights of targets of surveillance.
Garibashvili, however, also says that there is no guarantee that even after these recordings are destroyed, some of them will not emerge publicly. “We know for sure that copies of recordings that are stored [in the Interior Ministry] do exist and of course risk of these recordings being disseminated persists, we are not protected from that,” he said.
A bill on amnesty has been drafted in the Parliament, which, if approved, will exempt from punishment those who will voluntarily hand over to the authorities such recordings obtained through illegal surveillance within one month following enforcement of this bill.
The separate videotapes, which the Interior Ministry says were found in arms cache unearthed in Samegrelo region and which depict torture and rape of two detainees in 2011, were shown to foreign diplomats, as well as to a large group of media and civil society representatives this week.
While commenting on torture videos, President Saakashvili suggested that cases of inhuman treatment of detainees were of isolated cases, not systemic, and said he regretted very much if “sadists” could “sneak in” the police, where, he said, situation in terms of human rights protection was improved “in 99.99 percent of cases” compared to pre-Rose Revolution situation.
Interior Minister Garibashvili said on June 21 that one of the major reasons behind the decision to delay destruction of the archive was recent remarks by President Saakashvili, who, as Garibashvili said, was still casting doubts that crimes which were committed under his rule were not of systemic nature.
“We’ve listened to very ‘interesting’ remarks from opponents, including the President, who voiced suspicion that these were not systemic crimes,” Garibashvili said. “We are sure that it was a systemic crime and not isolated cases.”
“It was an elaborated, wicked scheme of terrorizing, torturing people. We have seen that torture, rape of inmates was taking place in prisons, we have seen that it was also happening in the police… It was the entire system, criminal system,” he said and added that prosecutor’s office and the judiciary were also part of the system, which was then covering up these crimes.
“Vano Merabishvili was the person who was the Interior Ministry; how can one imagine that anyone could have dared to do such inhuman things without authorization from this person?” Garibashvili said.
“No one will be able to shun away from this responsibility no matter whether it’s Merabishvili or the President. This is a grave crime committed against own people, so everyone, who was part of this crime, will be held responsible; of course it should be confirmed in court and the investigation should spare no efforts to confirm it,” he said.
When asked if he was suggesting that Merabishvili, who is held in pretrial detention for separate unrelated criminal charges, and other former senior officials should face not only political, but also criminal responsibility, Garibashvili responded: “Yes of course.”
“We will definitely launch investigation to find out who was behind it,” the Interior Minister said.
President Saakashvili’s UNM party called for setting up of a parliamentary investigative commission to provide an oversight on the Interior Ministry’s probe into torture and rape of two detainees depicted on videotapes, purportedly found in arms cache in the Samegrelo region. UNM says that parliamentary oversight was required in order to prevent possible use of the case for political purposes against the opposition.
The commission in charge of overseeing destruction of recordings obtained through illegal surveillance is expected to meet later next week to decide when to destroy the archive.
The commission members are the Interior Minister Garibashvili; chief prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili; public defender Ucha Nanuashvili; as well as executive director of Transparency International Georgia Eka Gigauri and editor-in-chief of Rezonansi newspaper Lasha Tugushi, who have been actively lobbying for an immediate destruction of this archive; the group also includes head of Research Center for Elections and Political Technologies Kakhi Kashishvili.