A leaked video from a surveillance camera in a prison cell where former defense and interior minister Bacho Akhalaia is held in pre-trial detention triggered accusations against the ministry in charge of penitentiary for carrying out illegal eavesdropping of conversations between Akhalaia and his visitors, including his lawyers and a lawmaker.
A news website Information Center of Kakheti released late on October 3 a small portion from what it said was several hours long video recording made in November, 2012 in Akhalaia’s prison cell; in one instance Akhalai is seen in his cell talking to UNM lawmaker Akaki Minashvili and in another episode a journalist, who at the time was a member of public defender’s ad hoc public monitoring team authorized to visit penitentiary facilities, talking to Akhalai in the same cell.
What caused controversy is not the video surveillance, but the fact that video recording also includes audio feed making conversations between Akhalaia and his visitors audible, which Akhalaia’s lawyers and some human rights groups said was a violation of law.
The prison system ministry said in a statement that “electronic” surveillance of the cell was carried out for security reasons and it was done with approval of Bacho Akhalaia himself; it also said that Akhalaia was also able to meet with visitors in a separate room where “electronic surveillance” was only possible through “visual control.”
Sozar Subari, minister for the penitentiary system, said on October 4 that the law allows “visual and electronic surveillance.” He said that “visual” means video surveillance and “electronic means surveillance with all the other means.”
The law, however, differentiates between “electronic” and “audio” surveillance and says that the prison administration can carry out “audio, visual and electronic control” after notifying about it an inmate.
Akhalaia’s lawyers say that while their client gave his consent on video surveillance, there was no permission whatsoever on carrying out audio eavesdropping, which represented violation of law, including privacy of meetings between defense lawyers and Akhalaia. They also said that the prison administration required court’s authorization for carrying out such eavesdropping.
Prosecutor’s office said on October 4 that investigation was launched in possible case of exceeding powers by employees of the penitentiary system.