Around 4 000 people are sentenced to administrative imprisonment in Georgia every year. Administrative imprisonment is a purely Soviet mechanism, which remains in effect only in some post-Soviet countries (with the exception of Germany and Austria, where it operates in a different way) and which is broadly used and utilized to the full extent in Georgia.
As a result more than ten people a day are sentenced to up to 3 months of imprisonment for minor violations. More importantly, not even minimum protections for human rights are ensured in this process. For instance, those sentenced to administrative imprisonment have to serve their prison terms under the harshest conditions and can be subject to inhumane treatment.
It is rather difficult to explain the meaning of “administrative imprisonment” to the civilized world. In essence, it means that for minor violations that do not amount to crimes, individuals can be punished as though they have committed a crime, e.g. for violations of traffic rules, rules for assembly and protest, etc. Due to the presence of administrative imprisonment in Georgian legislation, persons who commit such minor violations can be forced to face long terms in prison.
It should be noted that the maximum term of administrative imprisonment in Russia and Azerbaijan, for instance, is 15 days, while in Georgia the maximum term can amount up to 90 days, i.e. 3 months. Sadly, potential sentences under administrative imprisonment mechanisms are at record highs in Georgia, and in the process human rights are not protected.
In particular, use of such imprisonment against participants of protests can be striking, frequently leading to almost unbelievable situations. For example, during the May 2011 rallies, party activists were increasingly arrested by police outside their homes at dawn, on charges of using bad language. As there were no witnesses, these people were sentenced to up to 3 months of imprisonment based on the statements of the arresting officers only.
The detention of protesters at the rallies frequently leads to unbelievable situations as well. Georgian society has witnessed a number of arrests of protesters at legal and peaceful rallies on charges of resisting police officers, even though they had not violated law, a fact confirmed by video recordings. These arrests were also based on statements of the arresting police officers only.
Worst of all is that the rights of individuals during such detentions are not protected even to a minimum degree. For example, they are not allowed to contact attorneys, and therefore they usually have no defense counsel. If a detainee gets lucky and an attorney somehow appears at his trial, he is given no more than 15 minutes (as maximum) to prepare a defense.
Regrettably, the courts are never interested in any evidence related to the case – for instance video recordings which show the very moment when the alleged violation was committed. Usually courts say that it does not constitute important evidence and the only evidence it is guided by is the statement of the arresting police officer.
Under such circumstances, a police officer could easily stop any individual peacefully walking in the street, take him to court, fabricate some absurd charges against him and have him sentenced to up to 3 months of imprisonment. Moreover, police officers are never required by a court to provide detailed explanations of the incident, instead their frequently unconvincing testimonies are simply trusted by the court.
Even worse, administrative detainees are sent to so-called “temporary detention isolators” that are intended for holding a person for a maximum period of 48 hours, as opposed to a 3-month long imprisonment. Holding administrative detainees in these facilities for a lengthy period of time amounts to inhumane treatment; for instance, frequently detainees have no access to a shower or fresh air and are unable to contact their family members, etc.
It is difficult to imagine that such a repulsive system is thriving in a country that spends enormous resources on implementation of democratic reforms, particularly in the field of criminal justice. Nonetheless, administrative detention and the horror that it entails not only exists, but is successfully and actively utilized throughout the country, and the number of victims increases every year. Last year their number reached almost 4000.
I remain hopeful that before starting to search for obscure problems hidden in legal nuances, both Georgian society and the international community will turn its attention to this absurdity thriving in plain view. Otherwise, even thinking about democratic reform would be ridiculous.
Tamar Chugoshvili is chair of Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association and human rights activist