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Ombudsman criticises Government over bugging devices

By Mzia Kupunia
Wednesday, July 1
The discovery of bugging equipment in opposition party offices indicates that the country is under a repressive regime, Georgian Public Defender Sozar Subari said on Tuesday. His statement followed claims by the Conservative Party and the Way of Georgia leaders that they found bugging equipment in their offices on Monday.

The Ombudsman said these claims did not come as a surprise for him. “I was sure that such equipment had been installed in almost every political party and NGO office,” Subari noted, adding that an ordinary citizen would not have been able buy such equipment. “All these devices have numbers attached and it’s very easy for the Interior Ministry to find out when and from whom this equipment was bought,” the Public Defender stated.

The Press Service of the Way of Georgia reported finding 2 bugging devices installed in the party office on Monday. The leader of the Way of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, compared this incident to Watergate, saying that in that instance the President resigned because of it. “I don’t suspect that Vano Merabishvili (Interior Minister) entered the office himself at night, but I think these buggers were fulfilling the order of the Interior Ministry,” she said. According to Way of Georgia representatives the bugging equipment was discovered by one of the opposition leader’s security guards by using special equipment.

Later on Monday Conservative Party leaders also claimed they had found bugging devices in their office. On Tuesday the co-leader of the party, Zviad Dzidziguri, demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. “The Interior Minister should resign after this at the very least, as he is persecuting his political opponents. As well as unjustly detaining opposition activists and members it turns out he has also put bugging equipment in our offices,” Dzidziguri said.

On Tuesday it also became known that similar devices had been found in the Alliance for Georgia’s office in Isani. One of the members of the Alliance, New Rights activist Mamuka Katsitadze, said that the New Rights is now checking its own offices. “I am also planning to examine my house, because I am sure the Government will install bugging equipment in our homes. I think this is a very good indicator of how democratic our Government is,” Katsitadze stated.

The Interior Ministry has denied any links with the bugging devices found in opposition party offices. Spokesperson Grigol Beselia said that the Ministry’s special agencies do not use these devices any more. “A criminal case has been launched concerning the bugging equipment found in the Conservative Party and Way of Georgia offices. No special license is needed to buy these kind of devices. Anyone can buy them, in many other countries as well as Georgia. Of course this fact makes the process of investigation more complicated, but work is ongoing to establish additional details about this case,” Beselia stated.

The Parliamentary opposition has condemned the buggings, saying that spying on opposition political groups is “anti-Constitutional” action. “We think that trying to impose total control over political parties is perturbing. This hinders the normal development of political processes and destroys the chance of restoring trust among the political forces,” Christian Democratic MP Giorgi Targamadze said, adding that “It is necessary to set up a monitoring mechanism which will ensure public control of Interior Ministry activities.”

Political analysts say that most probably the devices were installed by the authorities. “Everything about this case is clear for the Georgian people. Here even a housewife has the feeling that somebody is listening to her in the kitchen. The people put responsibility for all this on the Government, which has created this environment of total distrust,” political commentator Gia Khukhashvili told The Messenger. “The fact is that even ruling party supporters will say that the devices were installed by the authorities, because the trust in them is very low,” he added.

Ruling party officials were not available for comment when contacted by The Messenger.