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Prosecutor’s Office Publishes Secret Audio-Video Recordings

December 29, 2007

“The war of discrediting information has started in Georgia,” said businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili. This statement was issued after the Prosecutor’s Office made public an  audio-recording of a conversation between Patarkatsishvili and Irakli Kodua, the head of the Special Operative Department within the Internal Ministry. Patarkatsishvili’s election staff published their own audio and video recordings in response to the Prosecutor’s Office. Their materials reveal how Patarkatsishvili’s bodyguards searched Kodia before meeting with the businessman.

Patarkatsishvili’s statement was rapidly picked up by media sources, however, “the war of discrediting information” started in Georgia long before.

The Georgian government has a long history of using secret audio and video recordings. For example, when Irakli Batiashvili was detained, the only evidence against him was a secret recording of a phone conversation with Emzar Kvitsiani, the head of the rebels in the Kodori Gorge.

There are number of other instances when the Georgian government has used secret recordings.

The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office broadcast material on TV discrediting prisoners of Jail # 7 after suppressing a riot in the prison with severe methods;

Shalva Ramishvili, who took a bribe from Koba Bekauri, a member of the leading National Movement Party, so that he would not publish his journalistic investigation into the party member’s illegal activities. A video recording was the only evidence against the accused.

Several public officials were recorded taking bribes from officials from various bodies, with the recordings as the only reason for their detention.

One of the most scandalous secret recordings started after November 7th, 2007. The cameras of the Prosecutor’s Office were focused on opposition leaders Levan Berdzenishvili, Goga Khaindrava, Shalva Natelashvili and Koko Gamsakhurdia.

It was not first the first time that oppositionists were in the lens of the Prosecutor’s Office. Koba Davitashvili, a former member of the Conservative Party, was the hero of one famous secret recording.

This is by no means the full list of all secret recordings that people have seen splashed across their television screens in the last few years. Why does the Prosecutor’s Office have to prove the truth by using secret recordings? Is it national interest or just a reasonable strategy for discrediting everyone whose activities or views are not acceptable to the government?

Political scientist Ramaz Sakvarelidze said that the government needs similar audio and video recordings for the campaign they are implementing. In most cases they do not prosecute one particular person, but  simply need it to prove their strategy.

“A case is not discussed at the court when, in parallel to political events, discrediting materials are published publicly,” Sakvarelidze says. “When former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili broke into a brothel and shot naked women with a camera, it was an interference into the private lives of these people. In addition to that, he conducted the operation without the court’s permission. He acted within the framework of the campaign I was speaking of earlier. He did not want to punish those prostitutes at all. Similar activities are conducted in order to promote a particular person or an idea.”

Lawyer Gela Nikolaishvili states that western countries have similar experiences. There it is more difficult to receive permission for such  recordings from the court. In several cases, the court gives permission, but on several others it will not. In Georgia, a judge will give permission for such recordings by all means. They do not seem to be able to refuse the Prosecutor’s demands.

“There is not a judicial system in our country,” Nikolaishvili says. “It is a branch of the Prosecutor’s Office. In most cases, permission is issued after those secret recordings are published and it is then registered on a previous date. It is a very common method. Several years ago they enacted a law under which a person who is personally involved in the situation can make a video or audio recording and use it at the court.”

Nikolaishvili thinks that the secret audio-video recordings are used only with political motives in Georgia. “Similar practices are common in other countries as well, but in our country it happens far too often.”

Sakvarelidze thinks that publishing secret recordings has a certain influence on society, the political climate and political parties. “It is one form of political repression. People have the feeling of terror, of being listened to. It is incredible. The political element of this issue is not only that the Prosecutor’s Office has the right to listen to phone conversations, but also the manner in which the publicize those materials and show off their flaunting of people’s rights.”

Nona Suvariani, Tbilisi