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Ministry of Internal Affairs Loses Case Concerning Blocking of Public Information

08.05.2006
Ministry of Internal Affairs Loses Case Concerning Blocking of Public Information


The Human Rights Information and Documentation Center again has to cover problems regarding the availability of public information. Despite legislation that demands public information is made available immediately, government representatives often break these laws - although nobody has yet been punished for doing so.

This time the violation regarding freedom of information was committed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which was later successfully sued by the NGO - ‘Initiative Centre for Impeachment Procedures’. The head of the organization, Giorgi Mkurnalidze, under Chapter 3 of the Administrative Code of Georgia, requested a copy of an agreement between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the ‘Geocell’ cellular network. According to the agreement, ‘Geocell’ advertising was placed on police cars.

“The police or any special state equipment, such as tanks or Patrol Police cars, should not be covered in advertisements. Everybody can see ‘Geocell’ on the police cars front number plate - instead of the cars number. In order to find out if this complies with the law, I asked for a copy of the agreement. In addition to this there is another problem; if the police car crashes into a citizen and he or she manages to see only the front number plate, where there is only the ‘Geocell’ sign, what should the citizen say - that it was the ‘Geocell’ car which hit them?” asks Mkurnalidze.

Article 41 of the Constitution and articles 37, 38, and 40 of the Administrative Code, state that public information must be available to every citizen. A citizen should be immediately provided with the required piece of public information and if the law is broken, those responsible must be punished.

Mkurnalidze told a journalist with the Human Right Information and Documentation Center that the Ministry of Internal affairs refused his request for information, which is a violation of the law. The formal letter from the Ministry stated: “The ‘Geocell’ sign on the vehicles owned by the Patrol Police was put there because of a bilateral agreement.  A tender has not been arranged regarding this. It was the free will of ‘Geocell’ that served as grounds for the agreement”.

Mkurnalidze said that he needed a copy of the agreement, which is public information. He applied the City Court of Tbilisi and on May 22nd he got the result he wanted. The court demanded the Ministry of Internal Affairs provide Mkudnalidze with the required information. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Patrol Police also had to pay 30 laris to the state budget.

Because of the court’s decision, Mkurnalidze received information (although later than he should have) which led him to discover further violations of the law. After studying the document, Mkurnalidze decided to bring another law suit to court. This time he demanded the removal of the ‘Geocell’ company advertisement from the Patrol Police vehicles.

“The responses from the Ministry of Internal Affairs are controversial. At first the Ministry stated that there was no financial incentive for placing ‘Geocell’ advertisements on Ministry vehicles. However, the agreement states that the ‘Geocell’ company secured free enrollment and further services for 2,500 cellular network subscribers and provided the ministry with 600 telephone cards, each having 20 laris credit. That is downright lie and I will apply to the court to demand the ‘Geocell’ advertisements are taken off the Patrol Police vehicles”, says Mkurnalidze.

The Human Rights Information and Documentation Center contacted the Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to Shota Khizanishvili, the head of the Public Relations Department within the Ministry, the Ministry did nothing against the law. “We sent the document soon after the court decision was made. We think that he will receive it soon if he has not obtained it yet. However, we believe that any demand to remove the ‘Geocell’ advertisements from the Patrol Police vehicles is unfounded. Before doing this, we underwent every procedure and took into consideration the law in relation to the issue”, commented Khizanishvili.

Update: It seems that Mkurnalidze achieved his goal, because the ‘Geocell’ advertisements were removed from Patrol Police cars two days ago.

Eka Gulua

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