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Government nominee is elected Public Defender

By Etuna Tsotniashvili
Monday, August 3
By 88 votes to 8 the Georgian Parliament elected Giorgi Tugushi, the nominee of the ruling party, as the new and fourth Public Defender (Ombudsman) on July 31. Speaker of Parliament Davit Bakradze congratulated Tugushi and wished him success, explaining that the ruling party presented him as a candidate on the basis of his professional standards. Bakradze also expressed his gratitude to retiring Public Defender Sozar Subari for his service.

At the last Parliamentary session of the summer MPs considered two candidates for the post of Ombudsman, Tughushi and Dimitri Lortkipanidze, the opposition nominee and member of the Strong Georgia group. The candidates outlined their priorities to MPs. Lortkipanidze once again highlighted that he wished to create a “Georgian Strasbourg” in Tbilisi that would look into the cases of unjustly sentenced people. “We should not be looking for fair judgments in Strasbourg, we should have a Georgian Strasbourg here in this country,” Lortkipanidze had stated when he was nominated. He also stated at the Parliament session on Friday that he would address prison conditions and noted that the main focus of his activity would be working on problems regarding IDPs, refugees and civil integration, adding that the Ombudsman should be a man of principle and impartial and have a conscience.

Tugushi said his priorities would include protecting human rights, defending IDPs and ensuring their return to their homes, the issues of national minorities, the defence of those incapable of defending themselves and the care of people in psychiatric institutions and drug abusers. Tughushi also highlighted that the Ombudsman’s office should be user friendly, a place where each citizen had the opportunity to make an appeal in a straightforward way.

Asked by the Parliamentary opposition about “political prisoners”, those persons considered by some human rights groups and opposition parties to have been arrested by the authorities due to their political opinions and activities, Tugushi said that that one should be cautious before levelling such “a serious allegation.” “Each such case should be thoroughly studied by the Public Defender and we should only make statements on this matter after this,” he said.

Tugushi also was questioned about the dispersal of the opposition rallies on November 7th, 2007 and May 6, 2009, and reminded that current Public Defender Sozar Subari has accused the Ministry of the Interior of using excessive force against protestors on these occasions. Asked whether it was illegal to use non-lethal projectile launchers against demonstrators, Tugushi answered that on November 7 there really was excessive force used, but it is not for the Ombudsman to determine if using non-lethal weapons is a criminal offence or not. “It’s not part of the Public Defender’s duties,” he said.

“The Ombudsman should try his best to prevent such things occurring,” Tugushi responded. “I remember recommendations put forward by Mr. Subari on this issue and also those arguments put forward by the authorities saying that it was intended in the law [that police could use non-lethal weapons]; of course it’s better if such issues are clearly defined in the law, and additional instructions to regulate the implementation of such a law are also required,” Tugushi concluded.

On July 30, the day before the Parliamentary session, both candidates also answered the questions of a group of civil society representatives. One of the questions related to homosexuality, specifically the case of a young gay man who was expelled from a Georgian TV show after he revealed his sexual orientation on air less than two years ago. Lortkipanidze stated openly that homosexuality should be punished in Georgia. “I think homosexuality should be punishable in this country because it is punishable by our [Orthodox Christian] Faith. I think that one of the best means to fight against homosexuality is making it punishable under the criminal code.” Tugushi said that it is totally unacceptable for him to discriminate against any person on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Sozar Subari’s accreditation expires on September 16 and the new Public Defender will start work the following day. Parliament will reconvene in September.