Tbilisi, DF Watch – Georgia’s new prison minister

Prison Minister Sozar Subari will release up to seven hundred prisoners by November 23. (IPN.)

says the law about amnesty may come into force before November 23, and may apply to more than 700 prisoners, but he avoided specifying exactly how many prisoners may be released.

Sozar Subari, Georgia’s new prison minister, and a former public defender, on Tuesday held a press conference where he outlined his plans for the ministry.

He said the previous government left behind many unsolved problems, including crowded prisons; to finally get rid of torture at prisons and to properly investigate each case of mistreatment.

Another problem, he said, is that the sudden change of situation in the country caused wave of disturbances inside the prisons as prisoners declared mistrust in the management of facilities. Some of them have gone on hunger strike or harmed ownselves demanding to meet with the new prison minister.

Sozar Subari underlined that these kinds of protests and actions are not welcome and called on them to stop such actions.

The minister said they already started transferring prisoners from Prison 8 to other, open type prisons. Prison 8, which is located in Gldani district in the capital, is where the majority of cases of death and torture have taken place.

Subari says there are 2 600 prisoners there right now, which is a very high number for this facility.

“The process started today. About 100-150 prisoners will be moved to lighter facilities.”

When asked about the amnesty law, he said parliament has started working on this issue. Last week there were several statements by the new government regarding a new law on amnesty and categories of prisoners, who may be released, but still no exact figures are offered.

“The law may be enforced by the end of November, it depends on parliament; but it is hard to say whether it will apply to more than 700 prisoners. Probably it will be more than 700, but it is still not decided, but it has nothing in common with president’s clemency, that’s a different process,” he explained adding that the amnesty will apply to way more than 700 for November 23, when Georgia celebrates Saint George’s Day and by the end of year more prisoners will be released.

The prison minister said regulation about summing convictions for different crimes will also be abolished, which will contribute to releasing more prisoners, as well as improving other laws and regulations.

Prison abuse scandal erupted by the end of September, a couple of weeks before the parliamentary election. TV showed  scandalous video footage reflecting physical, sexual and verbal abuse of prisoners at Georgian jails, which resulted in the resignation of the prison minister, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, and interior minister Bacho Akhalaia; the latter believed to be involved in torture cases. His location remains unknown, after dropping off the public’s radar at the moment when the first results of the election became known.

Georgia is one of the countries in the world with the highest number of number of prisoners per capita, but annually increasing number of deaths at prisons is also very concerning.

New minister promises to do everything to defend human rights in prison system, but it doesn’t mean there will be no punishment.

“It doesn’t mean someone won’t get at isolation cells. It doesn’t mean we will let someone to oppress them, whether it be a doctor or an employee.”