Georgian State Security Service accused of mass-surveillance of public figures

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This article was first published on OC Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement.

According to leaked documents, the Georgian State Security Service (SSG) has been spying on journalists, opposition and ruling party politicians, activists, priests, businesspeople, and other public figures. The documents were leaked to the pro-opposition TV station Mtavari Arkhi.

Among those, who were targeted are Salome Zurabishvili, the President of Georgia, Tea Tsulukiani, the Minister of Culture, and film director Goga Khaindrava.

On August 1, during an episode of the TV show “Mtavari Aktsentebi” (Main Accents) hosted by Mtavari Arkhi, the TV station’s head, Nika Gvaramia, released documents reportedly obtained from the SSG that detail illegally recorded telephone and face-to-face conversations. Among the documents were accounts of secretly recorded sexual interactions.

The channel did not broadcast the names of those targeted, however, Gvaramia said that the documents included people's names and personal identification numbers.

Several of those targeted publicly identified themselves, confirming the authenticity of the leak. Among them were at least two journalists, Giorgi Mgeladze from RFE/RL and Nino Gelashvili from Formula.

The leaked documents are from 2020 and include personal information, including details of the targets’ sexual lives and in some cases sexual orientation, as well as the names of their partners and family members.

According to Gvaramia, Grigol Liluashvili, the head of the SSG; Deputy Head Levan Akhobadze; and Koba Kobadze, the director of the SSG’s Operative-Technical Agency, which is responsible for carrying out covert surveillance, were responsible for the recordings.

The SSG has dismissed the allegations and denied any wrongdoing.

What are the allegations?

The leaked documents are divided into two major parts. The first, according to Gvaramia, primarily involve intercepted conversations about the targets’ personal lives. The documents also featured conversations between government officials, business people, actors, journalists, clergymen of different denominations, and high-ranking officials from both the opposition and ruling party.

“A high-ranking official is having a love affair with a journalist who got pregnant from him, and Bidzina Ivanishvili found out about it and forced her to have an abortion,” Gvaramia read from one report during the TV show.

“Businessman I, an employee of a joint-stock company, was informed by D that a representative of one opposition party, T, is a lesbian. According to D, some time ago, T offered a woman who was in an intimate relationship with the latter, to have non-traditional sexual relations,” was another excerpt from the documents.

According to Gvaramia, at the end of each recorded incident or conversation, there is a note on further steps for the organization to take, typically instructing them to “continue operational activities.”

The second part of the documents was rooted in political surveillance.

One of the leaked recordings is a conversation between director Goga Khaindrava and ex-Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani, who talk about Nika Gvaramia and TV Mtavari host Giorgi Gabunia.

Senior ruling party Georgian Dream officials dismissed the reports. According to Irakli Kobakhidze, the chair of the Georgian Dream Party, the reports are a “fairy tale.”

“We can not comment on the tales and fantasies of [Nika Gvaramia],” said Kobakhidze after the leaks were made public.

In a statement on Monday, August 2, the State Security Service broke their silence, labeling the allegations “misinformation” and “anti-state action.”

“As part of the information war, specific media outlets are using all means to use the current situation in the country to achieve their own political goals and to make society more polarised,” the statement said.

This misinformation serves to deliberately discredit the State Security Service, mislead the public, and incite distrust in state institutions.

Unfortunately, certain members of civil society and political parties, willingly or unwillingly, become participants in this provocative and damaging disinformation campaign for the state.

The State Security Service carries out its activities in full compliance with the Constitution and the norms of law.

Giorgi Mshvenieradze, a board member from the legal advocacy group Georgian Democracy Initiative, was one of those targeted by the surveillance whose conversations were anonymously disclosed on Mtavari Arkhi. He challenged the SSG's denials in a comment under their statement on Facebook.

“OK. How did Nika Gvaramia know the content of my 2020 conversation?” Mshvenieradze asked. “I’m interested in your response to this and maybe you can answer me here, others are interested too.”

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