Public Defender’s Statement on the Release and Public Screening of Sexual Abuse Videos

Considering the gravity of the matter, the Public Defender once again draws attention to the release and screening of videos showing sexual abuse and urges relevant agencies to make appropriate response.

A few days ago a Ukrainian website released videos showing sexual abuse committed by law enforcers in Georgia, in particular, in Samegrelo region. The video footage was widely circulated on the Internet by various individuals and organizations and was publicly screened in Zugdidi and Tbilisi.

The secret and illegal videos, great part of which was not destructed by the Interim Commission on Illegal Surveillance and Wiretapping for the only purpose to ensure thorough investigation, shall not be available to the public. Videos, as a rule, serve as evidence in criminal cases, and with great probability, they are obtained by unauthorized individuals through illegal ways. Consequently, effective and immediate investigation should be launched. In addition, the facts that there have been a number of guilty verdicts with regard to the crimes shown in the videos and that the majority of victims are part of our society, for which each new release of the videos is new pain and trauma, raise a question about whether the public release of the videos serves public interest. In this situation, preference should be given to the protection of interests of the victims, who continue to live beside us, and I believe that their interest cannot be outweighed by much less important interest. It is especially unacceptable when public screenings of the videos are organized under the patronage of representatives of the authorities.

In addition, in the video footage released on October 17 the rape victims can be identified through voice, body, hair color and other traits. I believe that release of the footage in this form as well as public screening is beyond legal frames and represent a severe offence. The victims can be identified by their relatives and friends, which may renew their traumas.

States should ensure the effective recognition of, and respect for, the rights of victims with regard to their human rights; they should, in particular, respect the security, dignity, private and family life of victims and recognize the negative effects of crime on victims[1]. States should ensure, at all stages of the procedure, the protection of the victim’s physical and psychological integrity. [2]

The first part of article 157 of the Criminal Code of Georgia describes illegal disclosure of personal data through spreading or other ways, which has resulted in a substantial damage, as a crime. The second part of the same article stipulates that illegal use of personal information or spreading thereof in the piece distributed in this or that way, by mass media or the Internet, including social networks, or by making a public speech, which has resulted in a substantial damage, shall be regarded as a crime. Personal information concerning the person’s health, sexual life, or recognition as a crime victim, which make identification of the person possible, is categorized as particular personal information.[3]

The aforementioned parts of article 157 of the Criminal Code were amended in the given form on 2 May 2014, the aim of which was to extend the scope of the regulation and to toughen sanctions. The attached explanatory note of the legislative amendments says that "the state should take actual legislative steps, apart from the recent efforts carried out for protection of private life, in order to implement its positive obligations and to create stable safeguards for protection of and respect for private life. The legitimate expectation of the society is to live in a state where personal and family life is protected and in case of interference the offender is properly punished. It is necessary to create a legal framework, which will reduce the risk of arbitrary interference with the private life”. The need for the mentioned changes was stressed by the Interim Commission on Illegal Surveillance and Wiretapping, one of the members of which was the Public Defender. On 2 September 2013 the commission instructed the Ministry of Internal Affairs to draft a bill in order to toughen sanctions of relevant articles of the Criminal Code.

The aforementioned provision of the Criminal Code prohibits any person or organization from spreading personal data illegally. The prohibition applies to open posting on the Internet or public screening in parks or streets. Public display of the video footage showing violence increases the risk that children may see it, which is a serious problem even when the victim is not identified. It should be negatively evaluated that the public display of the abovementioned videos in the city of Zugdidi was reportedly attended by local officials, including the Zugdidi governor.

Given the abovementioned provisions, the publicly posted footage, in which it is possible to identify victims, must be immediately deleted/removed, in order to prevent further damage. The spread of information containing identification signs must become a subject of investigation. It should also be found out whether the law enforcement agencies were informed of the public displays in Tbilisi and Zugdidi and whether they used all available means to prevent the crime - illegal spread of personal data.

At the same time, the Prosecutor's Office must publish information about the results of the investigation into all cases of illegal recordings that were handed over to them following the relevant decision made by the Interim Commission on Illegal Surveillance and Wiretapping on 31 January 2014, as it happened with regard to the videos discovered in Zugdidi. Pending investigation into hundreds of complaints about torture and ill-treatment over the years promotes and reinforces the syndrome of impunity.

[1] Appendix to the Recommendation Rec(2006)8 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on assistance to crime victims, par. 2.1.

[2] Appendix to the Recommendation Rec(2006)8 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on assistance to crime victims, par. 10.1.

[3] Subparagraph B of article 2 of the Law on Protection of Personal Data.

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