a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, but there was one report that an illegal detention led to an unlawful killing. There was at least one report that de facto authorities in the Russian-occupied regions of the country committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing.
On October 5, the body of David Mumladze, who had disappeared on October 1, was found on the banks of the Mtkvari River with stab wounds. Authorities arrested two Rustavi District criminal police officers, Mikheil Gubianuri and Davit Mirotadze, along with a former police officer, Dimitri Gudashvili, and charged them with illegally detaining Mumladze. The officers allegedly delivered Mumladze to members of a criminal group, who stabbed Mumladze and threw his body into the river. As of December the case continued.
In July de facto Abkhaz authorities arrested Anzor Tarba in Abkhazia. Tarba died in custody, and de facto Abkhaz authorities later arrested lead investigator Badri Jirkiba and three other officials, charging them with “torture with particular cruelty, leading to the death of a detainee.” The de facto ombudsman of Abkhazia claimed there was widespread torture in the Abkhaz penitentiary system.
In January 2018 a youth, 18-year-old Temirlan Machalikashvili, died in a Tbilisi hospital from gunshot wounds inflicted by security forces during a 2017 counterterrorism raid in the Pankisi Gorge. His father, Malkhaz Machalikashvili, alleged the killing was unjustified. The Public Defender’s Office (PDO) emphasized the importance of a transparent, objective, and timely investigation; nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the subsequent investigation as lacking integrity. In August, Malkhaz Machalikashvili began a nationwide campaign to collect enough signatures to force parliament to consider establishing a fact-finding commission. The campaign continued as of October. In September the PDO asked parliament to question the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) regarding the investigation, stating this would “demonstrate systemic problems in the [PGO].” In October the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) opened discussion of the case and requested materials from the government. As of December the investigation continued.
In March, Georgian citizen Irakli Kvaratskhelia died while in custody of Russian “border guards” in Abkhazia, who detained him for allegedly “illegally” crossing the ABL with Abkhazia. Georgian authorities viewed Kvaratskhelia’s case as one in a continuing pattern of arbitrary detentions of Georgian citizens for “illegally” crossing the ABL.
An investigation of the 2008 death of Badri Patarkatsishvili continued as of December. In October 2018 the PGO, then known as the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, launched the investigation after releasing audio tapes dating back to 2007 in which former government officials were heard discussing different methods of killing Patarkatsishvili that would make the cause of death appear natural. In July a former official at the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Constitutional Security Department, Giorgi Merebashvili, was released from prison after the Tbilisi City Court did not extend his pretrial detention. Merebashvili was accused of participating in planning Patarkatsishvili’s murder. In November authorities charged former officials of the same department–Gia Dgebuadze, David Kokashvili, Ilia Gamgebeli, and Levan Kargadava–with abuse of power and illegal detention for allegedly arranging the arrest of Jemal Shamatava, the Ureki police chief, after Shamatava warned Patarkatsishvili of a potential attack in 2006. The four former officials faced nine to 11 years in prison. The case continued as of December.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The government’s investigation begun in 2017 into the reported kidnapping of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli by government officials remained stalled. During the year the PDO, local and international NGOs, and the international community continued to express concerns regarding impunity for government officials in connection with the reported 2017 abduction and forced rendition of Azerbaijani freelance journalist and activist Afgan Mukhtarli from Georgia to Azerbaijan. As of December the PGO claimed it continued to wait for a response to its request to Azerbaijan’s government to interview Mukhtarli. The PDO, NGOs, and Mukhtarli’s wife criticized the investigation for its lack of urgency and transparency, as well as for authorities’ refusal to grant Mukhtarli “victim status.” Such status would have allowed Mukhtarli’s lawyers to request special protection for the life, health, and property of Mukhtarli and his close relatives. NGOs accused investigators of ignoring alleged abuses of power by government authorities. The developments, combined with the government’s failure to issue an interim report on the investigation and the July 2018 comment of Vakhtang Gomelauri, then head of the SSSG, that “some investigations are never solved” added to concerns of government involvement in Mukhtarli’s disappearance from Tbilisi and arrest on the Azerbaijan-Georgia border.
More than 2,300 individuals remained missing following the 1992-93 war in Abkhazia and the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). During the year the government did not make significant progress on investigating the disappearances of ethnic Ossetians Alan Khachirov, Alan Khugaev, and Soltan Pliev, who disappeared in 2008. The country also did not renew the mandate of OSCE independent expert Dusan Ignjatovic to support the investigation.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports government officials employed them. In its report for 2018 released in April, the PDO stated that effectively combating torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment remained “one of the most important challenges faced by the country.”
During the year the PGO received 92 letters concerning allegations of mistreatment by police and penitentiary officers from the PDO. It investigated 19 of these cases: 18 for alleged abuse of power and one for alleged degrading or inhuman treatment. According to the PGO, however, none of these 19 investigations yielded enough evidence to pursue prosecution. In its report for 2018, the PDO reported a decrease in the number of cases of mistreatment by police it referred to prosecutors but a near doubling in the number of injuries sustained by individuals admitted to temporary detention facilities and during or after administrative arrests (116 in 2018, compared with 65 in 2017).
In July 2018 parliament passed a law establishing an institutionally independent State Inspectorate charged with investigating allegations of misconduct–including torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment–by government officials, including law enforcement. On November 1, the inspectorate’s mandate began.
As of October the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) reported it submitted 25 complaints of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in the penitentiaries or by law enforcement to the PGO for investigation, compared with 16 for 2018. Twenty of these cases related to individuals arrested during the June 20-21 protests. PGO investigations into these complaints continued as of December.
On February 13, Bolnisi District police officers apprehended a minor for suspected theft and took him to the local police station. There Detective Investigator Konstantine Kochishvili allegedly physically assaulted the minor, spitting in his face and beating him. In the course of the beating, he reportedly broke the minor’s arm. On May 28, authorities arrested Kochishvili and charged him with degrading and inhuman treatment. As of December, Kochishvili was in pretrial detention and the case continued.
According to a May 10 report on a September 2018 visit by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), male acute patients at Khelvachauri Psychiatric Hospital made a number of allegations of recent slapping and punching by orderlies. In contrast the CPT delegation received no allegations of recent physical abuse of patients at Surami Psychiatric Hospital.
As of year’s end several former officials remained on trial at Tbilisi City Court in various cases of torture and other crimes allegedly committed under the former government, including the former deputy chief of the general staff, Giorgi Kalandadze; the former deputy culture minister, Giorgi Udesiani; and the former director of Gldani No. 8 prison, Aleksandre Mukhadze (see section 1.d.).
During the year the PGO investigated 367 cases of alleged mistreatment by penitentiary and law enforcement officers, including cases from previous years. The investigations led to the prosecution of three persons, all of whom were charged with degrading or inhuman treatment.
According to media reports, on October 3, de facto officials of Russian-occupied South Ossetia severely beat inmates who had been on hunger strike since September 27 in protest of allegedly substandard prison conditions. The de facto officials forced inmates to eat, after which some of the inmates attempted suicide, leading to the hospitalization of one. On October 23, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia responded to footage of the inmates being beaten, posted on social media, stating, “Unfortunately, the only and legitimate way to tackle such issues…is to work with our international partners and increase [their] presence in occupied Tskhinvali.”
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
While overall prison and detention facility conditions were adequate, conditions in some old facilities lacked sufficient ventilation, natural light, minimum living space, and adequate health care. Prison conditions in Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia were reported to be chronically substandard.
Physical Conditions: An October report supported by the UN Development Program on Georgia’s implementation of the National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights 2014-2020 noted that there was “significant improvement” in resolving prison overcrowding during this time period. The CPT report in its September 2018 visit to Georgia stated that while overcrowding was no longer a problem in the prisons visited, the minimum living space for detainees remained inadequate. The PDO’s 2018 report noted that despite improvements, overcrowding remained an issue in some prison facilities, especially penitentiaries Numbers 2 and 15.
In its report the CPT expressed its most serious concern regarding a tendency of prisons visited to place prisoners in “de-escalation rooms” for up to 72 hours. While physical conditions in temporary detention isolators were “on the whole acceptable,” the CPT also highlighted several other deficiencies, including minimum living space. Inmate-on-inmate violence, criminal subcultures, and informal management by selected prisoners remained persistent problems. The CPT also reported that cell toilets for detainees generally were only partially screened and criminal suspects had no access to a shower or outdoor exercise.
While the Ministry of Justice maintained a special medical unit for prisoners with disabilities, the PDO reported prisons and temporary detention centers did not take into account the needs of persons with disabilities, including for medical services. The PDO also noted the majority of institutions failed to compile data on and register the needs of persons with disabilities. According to the Special Penitentiary Service, some facilities began to adapt their infrastructure to accommodate persons with disabilities (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).
In its September 2018 visit to three psychiatric hospitals, the CPT found that many patients continued to live in “woefully dilapidated and sometimes overcrowded dormitories, which lacked privacy and failed to ensure patients’ dignity.” The CPT also reported a shortage of psychiatrists and ward-based staff.
Administration: The PDO noted there was only one ombudsperson authorized to respond to complaints by prisoners and reported that obstacles, such as a lack of information on their rights, fear of intimidation, distrust of the outcome, and lack of confidentiality, could deter prisoners from filing complaints with judicial authorities.
According to the PDO, records on registering and distributing detainees in temporary detention centers were often incomplete or erroneous.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by international prison monitoring organizations, including the CPT, the International Corrections Management Training Center, and some local and international human rights groups. The national preventive mechanism operating under the PDO had access to penitentiaries, conducted planned and unscheduled visits, and was allowed to take photographs during monitoring visits. National preventive mechanism members, however, did not have unimpeded access to video recordings of developments in penitentiaries and inmate medical files.
The ICRC had full access to prisons and detention facilities in undisputed Georgian territory and some access to prison and detention facilities in South Ossetia. The ICRC did not have access to prisons and detention facilities in Abkhazia.
Improvements: As of October the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that medical units were improved and functioning in 19 of 29 temporary isolators, compared with 15 in 2018, and that medical personnel were trained with support from the Council of Europe to improve the quality of medical examination and documentation of injuries.
During the year the Ministry of Justice created a rehabilitation department in charge of introducing individual sentence planning and developing services based on data from the case management process. With the assistance of the EU program, all penitentiary staff were trained during the year on modern penal standards. The ministry trained its staff to enhance security measures in prisons.
In February the Ministry of Justice launched its 2019-20 Action Plan on the Development of the Penitentiary and Crime Prevention Systems. According to the ministry, the plan took into account both the CPT’s and the PDO’s reports.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government’s observance of these prohibitions was uneven.
Local NGOs considered the detention of some individuals in connection with the June 20-21 protests to be politically motivated (see section 2.b.).
As of December the trial of former justice minister Zurab Adeishvili remained underway in Tbilisi City Court. In 2016 the Chief Prosecutor’s Office charged Adeishvili in absentia in connection with the alleged illegal detention and kidnapping of a former opposition leader, Koba Davitashvili, in 2007. In November the PGO charged former justice minister Zurab Adeishvili and the leader of opposition party Victorious Georgia, Irakli Okruashvili, with abuse of power in relation to the 2004 killing of Amiran (Buta) Robakidze.
In January 2018 the Tbilisi Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s 2017 decision finding a former senior official of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, David Devnozashvili, and the former director of Gldani Prison Number 8, Aleksandre Mukhadze, guilty of misuse of power in the 2011 “photographers’ case” in which the previous government arrested four photographers and charged them with espionage. The defendants appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, which declared the appeal inadmissible in June 2018. In response the PGO motioned the Tbilisi Court of Appeals to revisit the 2011 decision against the photographers and acquit them of all charges.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Law enforcement officers must have a warrant to make an arrest except in limited cases. The criminal procedure code provides that an arrest warrant may be obtained only where probable cause is shown that a person committed a crime for which conviction is punishable by imprisonment and that the individual may abscond or fail to appear in court, destroy evidence, or commit another crime. GYLA noted the law did not explicitly specify the role and powers of a judge in reviewing the lawfulness of arrests and that courts often failed to examine the factual circumstances of the detention.
Upon arrest a detainee must be advised of his or her legal rights. Any statement made after arrest but before a detainee is advised of his or her rights is inadmissible in court. The arresting officer must immediately take a detainee to the nearest police station and record the arrest, providing a copy to the detainee and his or her attorney. The PDO reported, however, that maintenance of police station logbooks was haphazard and that in a number of cases the logbooks did not establish the date and time of an arrest.
Detainees must be indicted within 48 hours and taken to court within 72 hours. Anyone taken into custody on administrative grounds has the right to be heard in court within 12 hours after detention. Violating these time limits results in the immediate release of the person.
The law permits alternatives to detention. NGOs and court observers reported the judiciary failed to use alternative measures adequately. The government also lacked a monitoring mechanism for defendants not in custody.
Detainees have the right to request immediate access to a lawyer of their choice and the right to refuse to make a statement in the absence of counsel. An indigent defendant charged with a crime has the right to counsel appointed at public expense. As a result of government income requirements, however, many low-income defendants were ineligible for government aid but could not afford counsel during critical stages of criminal proceedings.
Detainees facing possible criminal charges have the right to have their families notified by the prosecutor or the investigator within three hours of arrest; persons charged with administrative offenses have the right to notify family upon request. The PDO’s 2018 report noted improvement in the observance of this right–families were notified within three hours of arrest in 82 percent of cases examined in 2018 compared with 71 percent of cases in 2017. The law requires the case prosecutor to approve requests by persons in pretrial detention to contact their family.
Witnesses have the right to refuse to be interviewed by law enforcement officials for certain criminal offenses. In such instances prosecutors and investigators may petition the court to compel a witness to be interviewed if they have proof that the witness has “necessary information.” The PDO reported that police continued to summon individuals as “witnesses” and later arrested them. According to the PDO, police used “involuntary interviews” of subjects, often in police cars or at police stations. The PDO’s annual report for 2018 noted that police failed to advise interviewees of their rights prior to initiating interviews and failed to maintain records of individuals interviewed in police stations or vehicles.
Concerns persisted regarding authorities’ use of administrative detention to detain individuals for up to 15 days without the right to an effective defense, defined standards of proof, and the right to a meaningful appeal.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary detention connected with the June 20-21 protests. For example, in a September 9 address to the international community, 16 NGOs highlighted the detention of Irakli Okruashvili, leader of the opposition party Victorious Georgia. In an October report on the June protests, the Human Rights Center stated, “arbitrary detentions were observed on June 21.” The Human Rights Center stated riot police and police violated the law when arresting hundreds of individuals, not distinguishing between demonstrators and passersby, physically abusing detainees, not informing lawyers and family members of detainees’ whereabouts, and submitting similar detention reports that did not specify a specific behavior that justified an individual’s detention.
There were frequent reports of detentions of Georgians along the ABLs of both the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For example, in August de facto authorities in South Ossetia arbitrarily detained eight Georgian citizens for “illegally” crossing the ABL. On November 15, de facto authorities sentenced well known Georgian physician Vazha Gaprindashvili to two months of pretrial detention after detaining him on November 9 in South Ossetia for allegedly “illegally” crossing the ABL. On December 20, he was sentenced to one year and nine months of imprisonment for “illegally crossing the border.” After appealing the sentence, Gaprindashvili was “pardoned” and on December 28, released. On December 7, de facto authorities detained four individuals near the occupation line; three were transferred to Tskhinvali Prison. One minor was released the same day, while the remaining three were released a few days later after paying a fine to the de facto authorities.
Pretrial Detention: NGOs noted inconsistent application of the standards to grant bail or order detention. Although there was a noticeable improvement in the substantiation of motions and rulings, prosecutors and judges at times did not articulate a reasoned and specific justification for requesting or ordering detention and did not discuss the lawfulness of the detention. According to Supreme Court statistics, pretrial detention was used in 48.3 percent of cases during the first nine months of the year, compared with 42.5 percent for the same period in 2018. Trial monitors attributed the increase in detention rates to a decrease in substance abuse cases, which often resulted in the defendant being remanded and released on bail, and an increase in reported domestic violence cases, which usually involved the detention of the defendant. The PDO reported the increase did not necessarily reflect an increase of domestic violence or reliance on detention.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The criminal procedure code provides that in exigent circumstances a person may be arrested without a court warrant. A person must be released immediately if the substantial breach of an arrest procedure has been identified. This decision may be made by a prosecutor or a judge at the first appearance hearing within 72 hours from the arrest. The law provides that the arrested person shall be fully reimbursed from the state budget for the damage incurred as a result of an unlawful and unjustified arrest. The PDO’s 2019 report noted that, as in previous years, persons under administrative arrest rarely exercised their right to a defense attorney in 2018. There is no meaningful judicial review provided by the code of administrative violations for an administrative arrest.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, there remained indications of interference in judicial independence and impartiality. Judges were vulnerable to political pressure from within and outside the judiciary.
The PDO, the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, and the international community continued to raise concerns regarding a lack of judicial independence. During the year they highlighted problems, including the influence of a group of judges primarily consisting of High Council of Justice members and court chairs that allegedly stifled critical opinions within the judiciary and obstructed proposals to strengthen judicial independence. Other problems they highlighted included the impact of the High Council’s powers on the independence of individual judges, manipulation of the case distribution system, a lack of transparency in the High Council’s activities, and shortcomings in the High Council’s appointments of judges and court chairpersons.
The PDO, the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, and the international community continued to highlight shortcomings in the 2017 legislative package informally known as the “third wave of judicial reform.” They pointed to problems in the laws’ implementation and highlighted challenges to judicial independence, including flawed processes for selecting judges at all court levels, many to lifetime appointments, which left the judiciary vulnerable to political influence. In a joint September 9 statement, 16 NGOs criticized the Georgian Dream political party for failing to demonstrate sufficient political will to strengthen judicial independence, asserting that “since 2015 diligent efforts have been made to ensure strengthening and extending the influence of the so-called dominant group of corrupt and compromised judges…”
On December 13, parliament passed a “fourth wave” of judicial reform. The legislation incorporated several key provisions, based on best international practices, that aim to create greater transparency, accountability, and independence in the judiciary, in areas such as judicial discipline, appointment, and caseload management. The package, however, left the authority to select individual court chairs with the High Council of Justice; NGOs warned this power would allow the High Council to continue to influence individual judges.
The PDO’s 2019 report on 2018 called on parliament to equip the Prosecutors’ Council with the relevant competence to meet adequately its constitutional mandate to provide for the Prosecution Service’s independence, transparency, and efficiency. The report also recommended that the PDO gain access to case files in ongoing investigations, as some cases remain pending for years without explanation.
In December 2018 the High Council of Justice nominated 10 controversial candidates to the Supreme Court and granted a lifetime lower-court appointment to Levan Murusidze, who had been accused of corruption. Civil society, opposition figures, and some ruling party members criticized Murusidze’s appointment and accused him and the nominees of being part of, or closely affiliated with, the influential group of antireform judges that civil society referred to as a “clan.” They also criticized the lack of a transparent nomination procedure or clear criteria for nominees. The nontransparent nature of the nominations became a divisive issue within parliament; the chair of the parliament’s Legal Issues Committee, Eka Beselia, a Georgian Dream member of parliament (MP), resigned as committee chair and subsequently from the party in protest (see section 1.f.).
The High Council nominations and appointment of Murusidze prompted a major outcry, and several NGOs released a statement blaming Georgian Dream for not having the will to reform the judiciary. Four MPs resigned from Georgian Dream and one was expelled because of concerns regarding the judiciary. The High Council of Justice withdrew the initial slate of nominations and in September submitted a slate of 20 nominees after parliament adopted amendments on May 1 regulating the process for the selection of Supreme Court judges. The legislation created a two-part system whereby the High Council reviews and selects the final list of candidates, and parliament gives final approval via a majority vote after holding public hearings. On September 10, the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) released a report critical of the amendments and the High Council’s Supreme Court selection process. The ODIHR concluded the amendments fell short of providing for an open, transparent, and merit-based selection system and were not fully in line with international standards.
The OSCE/ODIHR identified several shortcomings in the High Council of Justice’s selection process and criticized its interviews of Supreme Court nominees as “highly dysfunctional and unprofessional.” It also noted that the lack of transparency in the process could violate Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides basic provisions for an independent and impartial tribunal.
In a case submitted to the Constitutional Court on November 1, the PDO challenged the constitutionality of the amendments regulating the Supreme Court selection process, arguing they violated the right to a fair trial.
Following a lengthy process of public hearings, during which a number of candidates had difficulty demonstrating expertise or independence, on December 12, parliament appointed 14 of the High Council’s 20 nominees to lifetime appointments on the Supreme Court.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial. The PDO reported numerous violations of the right to a fair trial, and NGOs noted this right was not enforced in some high-profile, politically sensitive cases. NGOs reported courts were inconsistent in their approaches to closing hearings to the public and at times did not provide an explanation for holding a closed hearing.
Defendants are presumed innocent and must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have a right to be present at their trial and to have a public trial except where national security, privacy, or protection of a juvenile is involved.
The law allows for trial in absentia in certain cases where the defendant has left the country. The code on administrative offenses does not provide the necessary due process provisions, especially when dealing with violations that could result in a defendant’s loss of liberty.
The law does not prescribe a maximum period for investigation of cases but stipulates a maximum period, nine months, for pretrial detention. If courts do not complete the case within this period, defendants must be released from pretrial detention pending completion of the trial. The criminal procedure code requires trial courts to issue a verdict within 24 months of completing a pretrial hearing.
GYLA noted that unreasonable delays in cases and court hearings were a serious factor in limiting the right to timely justice. The requirement of a continuous trial was met only in jury trial cases. In bench trials with defendants not in custody, trials were scheduled with intervals as long as one month. GYLA also reported that judges were unable to maintain order in many cases. The PDO highlighted weak reasoning in court judgments.
Examples of delayed proceedings included the cases of Temur Barabadze and founding Millennium Challenge Fund Georgia CEO Lasha Shanidze and his father, Shalva. The Shanidzes were convicted of embezzlement in 2011 after Barabadze testified against them. Barabadze later recanted his testimony, but a judicial review of the Shanidzes’ case continued to await the resolution of Barabadze’s case, also on charges of embezzlement. Hearings for Barabadze, however, did not begin until 2017. The trial court acquitted him in 2018, but the appellate court convicted him on the less serious charge of abuse of power, following an appeal. The PGO appealed this to the Supreme Court, and Barabadze’s and the Shanidzes’ cases continued as of December.
Defendants have the right to meet with an attorney of their choice without hindrance, supervision, or undue restriction. Defendants enjoy the right to have an attorney provided at public expense if they are indigent, but many did not always have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The PDO noted that while a state-appointed lawyer generally was available for those in need, state-appointed attorneys often were not present until submitting charges or plea bargaining.
In criminal proceedings defendants and their attorneys have the right of access to prosecution evidence relevant to their cases no later than five days before the pretrial hearing and may make copies. Defendants have the right to question and confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf at trial. Defendants have the right to refuse to testify or incriminate themselves.
Civil society and the international community recognized that the administrative code lacked some due process provisions, since the law allows for those found guilty of administrative offenses to be punished with imprisonment without the due process provisions afforded to defendants charged under the criminal code.
Although a defendant generally has the right to appeal a conviction, making an effective appeal under the administrative code was difficult. By law defendants have 30 days to file an appeal once they receive the court’s written and reasoned judgment. Administrative sentences that entail incarceration must be appealed within 48 hours and other sentences within 10 days. In October 2018 the Constitutional Court issued a decision in a case related to the appeal procedure in administrative violation cases. It noted that the existing appeal procedures were substandard and declared them unconstitutional. Based on this decision, on March 31, the existing provisions lost legal force. At year’s end parliament had not yet passed legislation to allow meaningful appeals in cases of administrative violation, but courts granted defendants appellate rights based on the Constitutional Court’s decision.
By law a court must certify that a plea bargain was reached without violence, intimidation, deception, or illegal promise and that the accused had the opportunity to obtain legal assistance. Plea bargaining provisions in the criminal procedure code provide safeguards for due process. The evidentiary standard for plea agreements stipulates that evidence must be sufficient to find a defendant guilty without a full trial of a case and must satisfy an objective person that the defendant committed the crime. GYLA reported that courts did not fairly evaluate the voluntariness of a defendant’s plea agreement and that, of 535 motions proposed by the prosecution in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Gori, and Telavi City courts between March 2018 and February, judges approved all but one.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
In a joint September 9 statement, 16 local NGOs expressed alarm concerning what they termed an “increased number of politically motivated criminal investigations and prosecutions.” They cited as examples the criminal case against the two founders of TBC Bank (see section 4), the criminal case against the former director of the television station Rustavi 2 (see section 2.a.), the criminal case against the father of the owner of TV Pirveli (see section 2.a.), and some cases of incarceration of those who in June protested Russia’s occupation, including opposition party leader Irakli Okruashvili (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly).
Opposition party members and family members of prisoners stated the government held political prisoners. The government permitted international and domestic organizations to visit persons claiming to be political prisoners or detainees, and several international organizations did so.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, but there were concerns regarding the process of assigning civil judges to narrow specializations, based on their loyalty to certain influential judges or others, and transparency of rulings. The constitution and law stipulate that a person who suffers damages resulting from arbitrary detention or other unlawful or arbitrary acts, including human rights violations, is entitled to submit a civil action. Individuals have the right to appeal court decisions involving alleged violation of the European Convention on Human Rights by the state to the ECHR after they have exhausted domestic avenues of appeal.
There were reports of lack of due process and respect for rule of law in a number of property rights cases. NGOs also reported several cases in which groups claimed the government improperly used tax liens to pressure organizations. For example, prior to its July change in ownership, the then opposition-oriented Rustavi 2 television station claimed it was unfairly targeted for its failure to pay taxes, while progovernment media did not experience similar scrutiny.
Since 2012 the government made it a priority to reduce the national caseload in the docket of the ECHR. The Ministry of Justice reported that 99 cases were filed against Georgia at the ECHR in 2018, compared with 367 cases filed in 2012. According to the ministry, since 2012, 85 cases were resolved with a settlement between parties and 43 were resolved with the government’s acknowledgement of a violation.
In Russian-occupied Abkhazia, the de facto legal system prohibits property claims by ethnic Georgians who left Abkhazia before, during, or after the 1992-93 war, thereby depriving internally displaced persons of their property rights in Abkhazia. In April the de facto parliament of Abkhazia passed “legislation” that also deprived family members of those “who fought against the sovereignty of Abkhazia, participated in the hostilities against Abkhazia, or assisted occupational forces” of the right of inheritance.
In a 2010 decree, South Ossetian de facto authorities invalidated all real estate documents issued by the Georgian government between 1991 and 2008 relating to property in the Akhalgori Region. The decree also declared all property in Akhalgori belongs to the de facto authorities until a “citizen’s” right to that property is established in accordance with the de facto “law,” effectively stripping ethnic Georgians displaced in 2008 of their right to regain property in the region.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions without court approval or legal necessity and prohibit police from searching a residence or conducting nonconsensual electronic surveillance or monitoring operations without a warrant. NGOs, media, and others asserted the government did not respect these prohibitions. For example, there were widespread reports that the government monitored the political opposition. Local and international NGOs also reported government officials monitored independent Azerbaijani journalists and activists residing in the country. Transparency International/Georgia and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center continued to raise concerns they expressed in a joint June 2018 report concerning the SSSG’s secret surveillance system and its lack of political neutrality and weak oversight.
Concerns regarding privacy rights again emerged following reports in late January of the release of a secretly recorded videotape of the private life of then Georgian Dream MP Eka Beselia. The president, the PDO, NGOs, and others urged law enforcement officials to prevent illegal surveillance and hold accountable those responsible for circulating such recordings. On January 29, the PDO and the nongovernmental “This Affects You Too” campaign separately noted that such recordings had been previously released with impunity and emphasized the practice mainly targeted politically active women. The campaign stated in part, “It is very alarming that the timing of the circulation of illegal recordings coincides with the critical statements of Eka Beselia in relation to the processes in the judiciary. It is of deep concern if certain individuals used the illegal recordings as a means to stall reforms in the judiciary and protect the interests of the clan of judges that wield significant power within the judiciary.” The videotape’s release occurred in the context of contentious parliamentary debate concerning draft legislation regulating the process for selecting Supreme Court judges (see section 1.e.).
As of year’s end, cases submitted to the Constitutional Court challenging a law on electronic surveillance were pending. The plaintiffs (NGOs and the PDO) asserted the law did not satisfy the requirements of a 2016 Constitutional Court ruling requiring that an independent body oversee electronic surveillance.