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Prisoner abuse papered over in Georgia

by | Jun 27, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – The ombudsman in Georgia Tuesday asked the chief prosecutor to investigate suspected cases of prisoner mistreatment at Ksani prison.

The plea came after some of the ombudsman’s inspectors met hundreds of prisoners in that prison on June 22 and heard their stories of physical and verbal abuse for violations of the prison’s rules.

Usually, the abuse takes place right before the prisoner is placed in a solitary cell or when a prisoner is recently first arrives to the prison.

They are punished for slight disorder. Conditions are grim, as the phones don’t work there, and prisoners aren’t provided with newspapers and radios.

The chair of the facility, Shota Tolordava, and his deputy Dima Chkhaidze, as well as other staff members, Levan Lezhava, Gela Iosava, have been involved if violation of prisoners’ rights, the ombudsman writes.

In previous years, prisoners actively named several employees of this prison including Levan Lezhava and Gela Iosava, who were said to be especially abusive.

The ombudsman’s last annual report dealt with the problem extensively, but led to no reaction from authorities, other than closing down two prisons and raising the maximum limit on inmates in many others, thereby increasing the problem of overcrowding.

The report further said that the reason many prisoners were harassed, was that they had complained about prior mistreatment to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg . The torture was intended to threaten the prisoner to withdraw his suit. They were also told to not complain about their situation whenever inspectors from the public defender are visiting the prison. If they don’t agree to that, they are physically or verbally abused.

693 prisoners signed a petition about their situation on the June 22 visit.

Then the ombudsman’s inspectors returned two days later, 28 of those prisoners who signed the petition had been transferred to prison number 1 in Tbilisi . The prison administration offered no explanation for the transfer.

One week ago, ombudsman Giorgi Tughushi reported in a letter to Prison Minister Khatuna Kalmakhelidze that in #7 facility prisoners didn’t have opportunity to fully use their right to a defense lawyer. Lawyers are restricted from entering the facility.

The explanation the prison’s administration gave was that heavy flood in May damaged the building, and therefore they are working under “special conditions”.

The ombudsman writes that a situation of “special conditions” in a prison can only be legally established based on an act signed by the minister, but the administration was unable to produce such a document.

But even if such a document is produced, special conditions may only be used to restrict the prisoners’ right to things like taking a walk, not the right to meet their lawyers. This right is never restricted, even during times of war or other emergencies.

Today, the organization Solidarity with the Illegally Imprisoned demanded an investigation into the death of the prisoner Raul Dumbadze, who according to their information committed suicide because of the difficult situation with physical and psychological harassment from the administration.

The group also said Giorgi Okropiridze, a prisoner in # 6 correctional facility, has gone on hunger strike, and demand that he is transferred to a hospital.

Her mother said he was tortured and this caused his health to deteriorate. During his trial, Okropiridze named employees at the prison who had tortured him. But they still they continue the mistreatment, and now he has a lawsuit in Strasbourg.

Such stories are reported almost every week by groups and opposition parties, but there is no response from the ministry or other government bodies.

The Public Defender presented his annual report to parliament this April. Both parliament majority and opposition recognized the work he had done with the report, but there was not enough representatives present that day for parliament to make valid decisions, and therefore no measures were introduced to follow up the Public Defender’s report.

The moderate opposition Christian Democrats for the second time called for the prison minister’s resignation, along with the refugee minister, but Kalmakhelidze remains prison minister.

Despite the difficult situation and the terrible incidents described by the ombudsman and reported by media, government officials describe the situation in the prisons in positive terms and underline the progress made.

The U.S. State Department notes that prisoner abuse was one of the most important human rights problems reported from Georgia in 2011, but does not pass judgment as to the truth to what the ombudsman and others reported.

U.S. Ambassador John Bass said in an interview with DF Watch that the rise in prison deaths is a cause for concern, but that it is not only the responsibility of the prison ministry, also parliament should do something about it.



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