Audio recording of a phone conversation between Paata Burchuladze, an opera singer who leads election bloc State for People, and Nika Gvaramia, head of Rustavi 2 TV, which was leaked onto internet, has renewed opposition’s allegations over illegal surveillance by the authorities.
In the recording Gvaramia tells Burchuladze that he is very upset about reported remarks of some of the members of his election bloc about readiness to form a coalition with GDDG party in the new parliament. “That’s a red line… we [Rustavi 2TV] are not ready for cooperation with those, who are ready to cooperate with [ex-PM Bidzina] Ivanishvili,” Gvaramia, who held senior government posts in ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration, told Burchuladze, who responded that the remarks in question by his bloc members were misinterpreted.
During the campaign GDDG ruling party has attacked Burchuladze’s party and his election bloc for multiple times by claiming that it is UNM’s “satellite” political group. Ex-PM and founder of GDDG party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, described Burchuladze’s State for People as “UNM’s project.”
Commenting on leaked recording, GDDG MP Eka Beselia, who is running for re-election in Parliament through GDDG’s party list, said on September 14 that it showed how Gvaramia “tries to give instructions” to Burchuladze.
Echoing many opposition parties’ reaction to the recording, Gvaramia accused the authorities of illegal surveillance on opponents.
“This recording is scandalous not because of its content, but because of the fact that the authorities have confirmed once again that they are eavesdropping on us all… and then publishing these recordings for their own political purposes,” Gvaramia said and pointed to the fact that the recording, uploaded on YouTube, was first picked by pro-government news website.
He dismissed as “ridiculous” attempts to develop “conspiracy theories” based on this phone conversation. Gvaramia said that those people who try to portray Burchuladze as being “linked” to UNM were interested in recording and releasing this wiretapped conversation.
He also suggested that the recording was edited by removing the part in which Burchuladze was telling him that he was against both GDDG and UNM.
He also said that he has communication with many political leaders and because of its editorial policy Rustavi 2 TV prefers to have a closer cooperation with “pro-Western” political forces; Gvaramia also called on voters to go to the polling stations on October 8 and to “mark any number on a ballot paper, except of 41” – referring to ruling GDDG’s number on ballot papers.
State for People also accused the authorities of illegal surveillance on opponents.
“It is scandalous that political party leader and head of media outlet are being eavesdropped,” said Davit Jandieri of State for People, who also said that the recording was edited by omitting the part of the conversation in which Burchuladze tells Gvaramia that his party is in opposition to both GDDG and UNM.
UNM opposition party also accused the State Security Service of illegal surveillance on political leaders and media representatives.
“There is nothing scandalous in a conversation between Burchuladze and Rustavi 2 director general. But the fact that the security agency is eavesdropping on a representative of the political party or head of an independent television channel is alarming,” said Sergi Kapanadze, who is an MP candidate from UNM opposition party.
The State Security Service has denied involvement in obtaining or leaking the recording and the Interior Ministry said it has opened investigation into this case of infringement of privacy.
A group of civil society organizations, united in This Affects You campaign against illegal surveillance, condemned circulation of wiretapped private conversation and called on the authorities to take measures against illegal surveillance.
“Secret surveillance and eavesdropping has been a systemic problem for years. The state has failed to investigate efficiently crimes [committed in this regard] and to fundamentally reform surveillance-related legislation that would have secured privacy rights of each citizen,” This Affects You campaign group said in a statement on September 14.
Georgia’s Constitutional Court ruled in April, 2016 that legislation allowing security agency to have direct, unrestricted access to telecom operators’ networks to monitor communications is unconstitutional and ordered to replace existing surveillance regulations with the new one before March 31, 2017.