Saakashvili Footages: Court Overturns State Inspector’s Decision Against Justice Ministry

The Tbilisi City Court on January 11 overturned the State Inspector’s decision imposing a fine on the Justice Ministry for the unlawful release of several controversial footages of jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili surrounding his hunger strike and forced transfer to the prison clinic.

The ruling comes after the Georgian Dream-led Parliament voted on December 30 to dissolve from March 2022 the State Inspector’s Service – the body authorized to monitor personal data protection and probe abuse of power, to instead establish two separate agencies.

The Inspector’s Service announced on January 11, that it hoped to receive the Court’s reasoned decision in due time for the agency to be able to appeal the ruling before its dissolution.

The State Inspector’s Service found on December 3 that the Justice Ministry and its Special Penitentiary Service, in Saakashvili’s case, had violated principles of data processing, under Article 44 of the Law on Personal Data in several instances. It fined the Ministry GEL 500 (USD 160) and the Penitentiary Service GEL 2,000 (USD 650).

According to the State Inspector, neither the Ministry nor the Penitentiary Service complied with its orders to remove, from their official web- and social media pages, photos and recordings containing Saakashvili’s personal data.

Instead, the statement said, the Ministry and its agency filed separate complaints at Tbilisi City Court on December 17 to appeal the Inspector’s decision.

The Inspector’s Service criticized the “unprecedentedly rushed manner” the Court handled the process, scheduling hearings on cases with extensive materials ahead of the New Year’s Eve and notifying the Service about the trials only days in advance.

Yet, the Inspector said it could provide all necessary case materials to the Court, amid “unreasonably” tight deadlines and the fact that the Court hearings took place when committees in Parliament deliberated on abolishing the Service.

The Service, in addition, noted that two different judges overseeing the separate complaints refused to join the cases, despite the fact that they both dealt with the Inspector’s same decision and pertained to the same episodes of disclosing Saakashvili’s personal data.

The Tbilisi City Court is expected to complete the examination of the Penitentiary’s complaint during a hearing on January 13.

Court slams Inspector’s Service

In response to the State Inspector’s Service, the Tbilisi City Court stated today that the agency is “deliberately trying to mislead the public by spreading false information, with baseless and unsubstantiated allegations.”

In particular, the statement rebuked the Service’s complaint about “rushed” hearings and refusal to join the two cases, arguing the Court considered the cases “within the timeframe established by law” and that joining them would “hinder the implementation of rapid and effective justice.”

The Court also called on the State Inspector’s Service to disseminate information that is “based on real facts and correct interpretation of applicable law.”

Touching upon its ruling, the Tbilisi City Court said the judge overturned the Inspector’s decision because the release of information regarding Saakashvili’s “food intake” and other recordings “served the legitimate purpose of protecting state and public safety.” Thus, the dissemination of the footage did not violate data protection legislation, according to the Court.

Background on the controversial footages, Saakashvili’s detention

Footage aired by the Ministry and the penitentiary in November included photos of food supplements then-hunger-striking Saakashvili received as part of his treatment in Rustavi prison and video footage of the ex-President consuming the said supplements. Also, they aired among others controversial videos showing desperate ex-President refusing the prison clinic transfer and penitentiary employees dragging Saakashvili into the Gldani prison clinic.

Saakashvili secretly returned to Georgia from his self-imposed exile in late September, and was arrested on October 1, on the eve of local elections. He had been sentenced in absentia in 2018 on two separate abuse of power charges, and also faces charges of exceeding official authority, misappropriation of public funds and exceeding official authority. The ex-President went on a hunger strike after his arrest and was forcibly transferred to the Gldani prison clinic on November 8 due to worsening health. He stopped the strike on November 19 after authorities agreed to take him to Gori military hospital. He was returned back to Rustavi prison after the hospital discharged him controversially.

This article was updated at 17:26, January 12 with a statement delivered by the Tbilisi City Court.

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