Media reports and information released via the Internet on 13 September about the facts of unlawful eavesdropping and surveillance carried out by the State Security Service on a massive scale are extremely alarming.
The total control of citizens by the government through eavesdropping, collecting, and processing materials about their private lives violates fundamental human rights, infringes on privacy, and exposes a total collapse of state institutions.
Released materials have once again proved that the government, through the State Security Service, keeps virtually all groups of the population under control and surveillance.
Judging by the information that was made public, the government eavesdrops on nongovernmental organizations, journalists, political opposition, religious associations – the Patriarchate as well as non-dominant religious groups; collects and stores their personal talks, correspondence, information about various forms of their communication. The materials contain information about the private lives of individuals, their family members, relatives as well as relations with other people.
The freedom of religion or belief and the prospect of developing a tolerant society faces grave danger. Religious organizations, people who work hard for the protection of the constitution and fundamental rights in Georgia are under constant control and attempts are taken to discredit them. As it transpired, the reports of unlawful surveillance and eavesdropping contain materials about representatives of TDI – reviews of planned meetings, visits, future plans, talks, and interaction with religious organizations. Judging by the released material, the covert surveillance of religious and nongovernmental organizations is intensive and comprehensive. The authenticity of surreptitious recordings has been confirmed by a number of individuals and organizations so far.
The objectives of the State Security Service must be to protect the constitutional order, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and defense potential of Georgia against special services of a foreign country and unlawful actions of separate individuals, ensure the country’s security, fight against terrorism, and the like. However, as it can be seen, the government has been using its own power for political retaliation, comprehensive control of its citizens, intimidation, blackmail, discreditation of citizens by releasing rumors, in order to maintain the authority.
It is necessary to carry out an institutional reform of the State Security Service in the nearest future and to define counterintelligence, anti-terrorist activity, and protection of state security as its main functions. The reform of the State Security Service must involve a component of effective control and accountability of the service, which must minimize risks of unlawful eavesdropping and surveillance.
TDI has repeatedly issued statements about the state interference into the autonomy of religious organizations, attempts to influence these organizations as well as the unlawful practice of the State Security Service. The establishment of the State Agency for Religious Issues under the office of Prime Minister in 2014 paved the way for putting the freedom of religion and belief under the state control and authority of the security services. The activity and statements of the Agency over these years have made it clear that the state has not viewed the protection of freedom of religion as its priority, it has rather considered this freedom through the prism of state security and has strengthened mechanisms of controlling religious associations, especially those of religious minorities.
A flagrant example of such distorted practice was the case of Sheikh Vagif Akperov in 2013 when the State Security Service forced him to step down as the head of the Administration of Georgian Muslims. As it later transpired from media reports, a former officer of the State Security Service introduced a computer virus into the computer of Vagif Akperov to collect personal information about him. The case of Vagip Akperov has not been investigated yet.
Furthermore, in the past few years, the government made repeated attempts to restrict freedom of religion and belief through constitutional changes under the pretext of state security.
The government has not assumed political responsibility for a covert control of its citizens - unlawful eavesdropping, surveillance, blackmail of an unprecedented scale. Representatives of the government have not made even a single statement so far that would adequately assess the harm inflicted on society and the state. Such government does not deserve the trust of its citizens!