Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party plans to move ahead this week with a proposal to dissolve an independent agency responsible for monitoring personal data protection and abuse of power despite concerns that the move is politically motivated.
The Georgian opposition, member of the country's civil society, the UN, and the United States have all joined in criticizing the bill being rushed through parliament to shutter the State Inspector’s Office and fire all of its employees.
The proposal comes as the State Inspector’s Office is probing the alleged torture and mistreatment of former President Mikheil Saakashvili since his arrest in early October upon returning from self-imposed exile in Ukraine.
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After meeting with the State Inspector’s Office on December 27, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan said she was concerned about the bill and the rushed manner in which Georgian Dream is pursuing the changes.
Degnan called on parliament to pause what she called “a strange process rushing through legislation when there’s no need to rush it through,” and for lawmakers to conduct transparent consultations with all stakeholders.
Georgian Dream unveiled a bill over the weekend that would split the State Inspector’s Office into two separate bodies tasked with monitoring data privacy and investigating abuse of power by officials. If passed, all employees at the oversight body would be dismissed by March. Parliament is expected to push through the legislation on December 29 or 30.
Degnan said firing experts at the body was the “most troubling and most difficult” part to explain.
“These are experts who’ve been doing these jobs for several years without any complaint or questions by parliament,” she said, adding that dismissing all qualified employees of this service would be a loss of talent and experience.
Earlier, the UN Human Rights Office said it had “deep concern” over the proposal to abolish an independent office with a key role in torture prevention and privacy protection.
Public Defender Nino Lomjaria said on December 27 that the bill violates the constitution and the country’s human rights commitments “and aims to interfere with the activities of an independent institution.” She called the rushed nature of the bill without proper consultation with stakeholders “especially alarming.”
“[It’s] clear that the purpose of the legislative change is to influence the functioning of an independent body,” she said.
State Inspector Londa Toloraia accused the government of trying to retaliate against the agency for its investigations and decisions against state bodies.
Saakashvili, who went on a 50-day hunger strike, has claimed he was subjected to death threats, sleep deprivation, and physical abuse while in custody. His arrest and ongoing trials have triggered large anti-government protests at a time the country has been in a protracted political crisis stemming from disputed parliamentary elections in 2020.