Georgia: Freedom of Information Group Claims Police-Intimidation
The detention of the head of a non-governmental organization promoting transparent government in Georgia has raised suspicions over the authorities' motivation.
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information Director Giorgi Kldiashvili was detained on December 12 while carrying a dismantled firearm in Tbilisi. His license did not allow taking the gun out of his house, but he admitted to taking the weapon to a repair shop, according to an IDFI statement.
The group, though, maintains that the nature of the offense and Kldiashvili’s reputation did not warrant the arrest that followed.
After being stopped for carrying the gun, Kldiashvili himself showed up for questioning by police, who arrested him on the grounds that he supposedly could try to avoid prosecution. Two days later, a Tbilisi court found that there were no grounds for remanding Kldiashvili and he was released straight from the courtroom.
Kldiashvili is an active participant in an ongoing campaign to restrict the government's right to eavesdrop on private communications. The IDFI alleges that police asked Kldiashvili asked questions about his work as a freedom-of-information activist during their questioning.*
It has accused both the interior ministry and prosecutor's office of trying to intimidate Kldiashvili. The organization already is suing the interior ministry for allegedly failing to meet a request to release public information,
A senior parliamentarian from the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, Tina Khidasheli, however, has spoken out against the steps taken by police.
“If he had jumped out of a car with a gun in his hand, threatening the police , or was carrying a loaded gun… then tell us about it,” said Khidasheli, Netgazeti.ge reported. “If not, please enlighten us, in a clear and consistent manner, why it was necessary to arrest for two days a fairly law-abiding citizen… and to waste public resources on that.”
“Also, do tell us when and how do you plan to do away with such terrible practices in your agency,” continued Khidasheli, a lawyer by training who frequently took issue with alleged abuses by officials during the era of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, too.
“An arbitrary labeling of a citizen as a ‘bad guy’ or ‘dangerous guy’ does not make for sufficient grounds to lock someone up.”
The police on December 17 took Khidasheli up on her demand for information, although not in the detail requested.
In a terse statement, the interior ministry claimed that Kldiashvili had stated that he had a permit for carrying the gun, although, during police questioning, was unable to present it to police. They maintained that he had been detained according to the law.
The ministry emphasized its respect for Georgian civil society, and underlined that the "incident" in question "will not have a negative influence" on what it termed "cooperation between the interior ministry and IDFI."
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