NGOs Denounce Criticism towards Public Defender of Georgia

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) based in Georgia have issued a statement denouncing the recent “attack” on the Public Defender of Georgia, Ucha Nanuashvili, who was harshly criticized by members of legislative, judiciary and executive branches of government, including high-ranking officials.

The criticism of Nanuashvili started after he published his report on the notorious “Cyanide Case,” in which he spoke about fundamental violations which could have led to an unfair verdict for clergyman Giorgi Mamaladze, who was given a nine-year sentence for the attempted murder of the Patriarch’s secretary.

The statement of the NGOs reads that the non-governmental sector also negatively assessed the investigation and court process.

“Specifically, the report negatively assesses: violation of presumption of innocence, limiting the right to an attorney based on a so-called statement of secrecy, complete closure of the court hearing, and more,” the statement reads.

The organizations criticize the prosecutor of the case, adding that he had an “aggressive attitude” towards the Ombudsman. The NGOs also claim that Tbilisi City Court made a political statement which included a degrading reference to the upcoming end-of-term of the current public defender.

“The ongoing political campaign was joined by the Minister of Justice, who said that Nanuashvili was the ‘first unjust public defender’,” the statement reads.

“We call upon high-ranking government officials to abstain from such statements, as they contribute to disgracing and degrading the institution of the Public Defender, especially on the international arena,” the NGOs added.

Furthermore, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks condemned the statement of Georgian Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani on the Ombudsman and called on all to refrain from such comments.

“I am very concerned about the harm that such sustained verbal attacks can cause to the standing and effectiveness of this important institution… the role of the Public Defender is to act in defense of human rights, be a check on the power of governments and to help improve the quality of governance,” Muižnieks stated.

The Commissioner said the authorities might not always agree with the Public Defender’s criticisms, but it is crucial that the Public Defender is not hindered in the performance of his duties and can act with the requisite independence, free from any undue pressure. He added this is also important in the context of the forthcoming election of the new Georgian Public Defender.

The United States Ambassador to Georgia, Ian Kelly, also commented on the issue, saying the US government firmly supports the Public Defender’s office as well as Ucha Nanuashvili and perceives them as an important part of democracy.

“We are very supportive of this office and hope whoever replaces Mr. Nanuashvili is also independent,” Ian Kelly said.

The term of Georgian Public Defender Nanuashvili expires in December.

Thea Morrison

20 November 2017 18:39