Surveillance Tapes and ‘Secret Orders’

The release of surveillance tapes by the Georgian interior ministry in recent days – ‘evidence’ which allegedly suggests that opposition activists were buying weapons and making ready to use them to stage a coup during mass protests in early April – has a very familiar feeling to many people here in Georgia. The authorities have repeatedly publicised secretly-recorded telephone conversations and surveillance videos to discredit opponents, most notably in November 2007, during the last major outbreak of civil unrest in Tbilisi, when tapes of journalists’ phonecalls were released alongside footage which incriminated now-dead opposition oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili. Contrary to public opinion – during those dark times back in 2007, many ordinary people wouldn’t even dare to speak ill of the government on the phone – the interior ministry assures us that phone-tapping is not widespread and is only ever used to amass evidence for potential criminal prosecutions. But the release of the secretly-recorded tapes has undoubtedly heightened the mood of trepidation which has gripped Tbilisi in the run-up to the demonstration on April 9.

As well as the forthcoming protests, more bad news for the authorities could be on its way, suggests Der Spiegel. The German news magazine reports that a European Union inquiry into last year’s war is investigating the possible existence of a ‘secret order’ which allegedly ‘proves’ that President Mikheil Saakashvili started the fighting to seize control over South Ossetia, rather than to parry an invasion of Russian aggressors, as official insist. A government minister has insisted that ‘Order No. 2’ was never given and in fact never existed, and that the German report is “part of a series of lies and misinformation” instigated by Moscow.