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Giorgi Tughushi: “Mortality among Prisoners in the First Half of 2010 Was the Highest in Recent Years”


Bela Zakaidze, Interpresnews

Interpresnews interviewed Public Defender of Georgia Giorgi Tughushi about human rights situation in Georgia.

-First of all, I will speak about our monitoring in the penitentiary system. I cannot say that number of complaints of prisoners was reduced after various problems were addressed. It mostly concerns the medical treatment of prisoners. There were cases when prisoners petitioned us about ill-treatment. Several facts of ill-treatment and physical assault were observed this year too. It did not happen in every detention setting but I can single out several institutions which were problematic in the first half of the year. More precisely, Geguti Jail Hospital; later this problem was observed in Ksani jail hospital too. In August and September, 2010 the situation got very complicated in Ksani prison. Several aspects still remain problematic in the penitentiary system. It concerns both medical system and general conditions in the detention settings. Inmates of four prisons in Georgia still live in inhuman and degrading conditions; these are Batumi, Zugdidi, Khoni and Tbilisi Prison # 1. I always underscore that infrastructure in several detention settings has been significantly improved but I cannot say the same about jail hospital. This year, the hospital continued working without license again. It is not legal entity. We addressed many problems in health rights of the prisoners. The treatment of prisoners is still an acute problem; several months ago an incident occurred in the Ksani prison where two inmates complained about physical assault and ill-treatment from the prison administration. The prison personnel forcibly opened his sewed up mouth. I cannot say that 2010 was a bit better than previous years in this direction; however, improved infrastructure in detention settings supported improvement of living conditions for prisoners. Consequently, fewer complaints about living conditions were filed to our office. The problem of overcrowded cells was somehow resolved too. Nowadays, prisons are not overcrowded. However, the quarantine section of the Gldani Prison is in poorest conditions again; I underscored in my recommendation that 30-35 inmates shall not be placed in a cell designed for 6 persons. They have to sleep on the floor and similar situation might last 10 days or even for 2 weeks. There were cases when I sent individual recommendations to the ministry and requested to resolve this problem.

-In you last special report you named medical service to be the main problem in penitentiary system. What is the situation in this direction?

-Mortality among prisoners in the first half of 2010 was the highest during last few years. 57 prisoners died and 43 of them died of various forms of tuberculosis. Spread of virus hepatitis is still a problem in the detention settings. This problem was not resolved at all; just the opposite it was increased. The increased number of prisoners supported this problem; I think the total number of prisoners in the country has reached 23 800.

Besides that, there are several individual cases which we have studied. It concerned late medical treatment, ill-timed placement of prisoners in various detention settings. It is still problem to invite doctors to the prison as well as medicine-supplies. Improvement of dentist service and installation of sterilizers is positive innovation. It will supposedly prevent spread of hepatitis and various diseases which used to spread very easily in the past because of poor dentist service.

Several systemic problems are still unresolved. For example, lack of activities in detention settings, unemployed prisoners, lack of TV-sets, unavailability to printed media; lack of long-term rendezvous though every prisoner requests it.

-What is your conclusion – are prisoners’ rights breached in the penitentiary system?

-Right to adequate medical assistance is breached. It is proved by several facts which are discussed in my last report. We have discussed concrete facts of poor medical treatment. The situation with regard to psychiatric service is also terrible and it is very hard topic because only 5 psychiatrists serve such a huge system. Consequently, their service is very poor. Three of them work in other medical centers too. One-by-one psychiatrists serve Eastern and Western Georgia; with this background we met several prisoners during our monitoring who needed immediate assistance of the psychiatrist but they could not get it.

Several restrictions for prisoners often seem very unreasonable; like lack of being in fresh air, restrictions about phone cards when they have can call only one phone number and if they dial different number the phone card gets blocked. We requested to remove this restriction because the prisoners mostly complain about their poor contact with relatives. Everybody wants to have normal relation with family members. The phone is the only source to get in touch with them. We, of course, are going to continue our monitoring; we will evaluate the results of our recommendations. I am waiting for the parliamentary committee to start discussion of my reports which are very interesting and provide detailed information. They concern with ill-treatment and general conditions of prison inmates and police.

-What is the situation about human rights violation facts committed by police officers?

-In police detention settings we could not find a single person who complained about physical assault by police officers before and after detention. There were cases when detainees had injuries but they alleged they had received them after detention. Although the number of similar people was not large, we requested to start investigation on these facts to find those people who had breached the rights of these people; however, the treatment towards prisoners in police stations was better than in the penitentiary system throughout 2010. Nevertheless, there were several serious incidents and investigations were launched on them. Prolonged investigation is another topic which was raised in my last report. They start investigation but offenders are not educed. Investigation procedures are prolonged and do not comply with the standards of the European Court – investigation shall be carried out within reasonable term, shall be effective and oriented on result. We often see prolonged investigations when witnesses are not interrogated at all, when forensic expertise is not carried out timely – when injuries fade away, it is useless to carry out any expertise on it. I recommended the corresponding institutions to immediately respond and investigate intimidation and physical assault facts.

-Who should investigate similar facts?

-The prosecutor’s office is the only institution to respond to similar facts. The situation is very complicated in this direction. Most cases are still unresolved and as far as I know no conclusions were passed in any of these cases. There were several cases when police officers were dismissed from job as an administrative punishment but I mean criminal liability against offenders. When an investigation is launched under the criminal law, an offender suspected in torture, inhuman or degrading treatment shall be punished in accordance to the criminal law.

-What is the situation in the judiciary system?

-We submitted individual suits on several cases when ungrounded judgments were passed. It dealt mostly with pretrial detentions, or extension of the pretrial detention term. This problem is still urgent in the judiciary system as one of those problems which we raised in the second half of 2009 too. Ungrounded judgment breaches human rights – it contradicts the Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and it also breaches our Procedural Law. The law estimates that each judgment should relay in valid allegations and consequently, it should be well-grounded. Thus, ungrounded judgment might become a tool to breach the fundamental right of a person – right to personal freedom.

-Non-governmental organizations think that people are persecuted on political grounds in Georgia. According to the results of your monitoring, are there political prisoners in Georgia?

-I do not exclude that in several cases, which were not discussed by us, there were some political motivations for imprisonment of people. However, I have stated several times that political prisoner is not a legal term. A public offender cannot grant this status to any person; the law did not allow me to make similar statements; so, the only thing what we can do is legal evaluations of the cases which are claimed to be politically motivated. One of similar cases was Chakvetadze’s case. He is a member of the National Forum. I also made a statement on this case. We studied the court judgment and the public defender evaluated it as ungrounded. The same happened with regard to Eka Beselia’s brother and son. We prepared legal conclusions in similar cases and pointed out that Article 6 of the European Convention might have been breached in these cases. It is lawful evaluation of the cases which is within the competence of the Public Defender’s Office and we never refused to study so called politically motivated cases. If there were some violations, we discussed them in our reports and spread information about it in media sources.
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