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Unbearable Conditions in Kutaisi and Geguti Prisons

30.10.2012

Shorena Kakabadze, Kutaisi

After the famous video-footage of prisoners’ torture was aired by Georgian TV-Channels, Kutaisi based media and nongovernmental organizations established civil movement “Stop Act” in protest. Their 10-day protest assemblies (September 21-30) finished with the establishment of temporary public monitoring council which will have authority to enter and monitor situations in the Georgian penitentiary establishments.

Two representatives of Kutaisi civil society are on the 51-member list of public monitors which was created based on the special decree of Giorgi Tugushi, acting penitentiary ministry of Georgia. Those people are: Manana Managadze, head of Center for the Protection of Civic Interests “Argusi” and editor of the local newspaper New Newspaper Ia Bobokhidze. On October 24-25 they visited Kutaisi Prison # 2 and Geguti Prison # 14 and provided media with preliminary results of their monitoring.

“We studied conditions of juvenile and female prisoners – both accused and convicted people. I would like to inform you that situation is very grave. Some main issues are that when we asked prisoners how they felt, they directly replied: “We cannot even compare it with the previous situation; everything changed for better.” We inquired what they meant and they clarified that they are no longer oppressed; nobody exercises psychological and physical violence against them; nobody treats them inhumanly. They meant period after political and legal reality changed in the country,” said Ia Bobokhidze.

Arbitrary prisoners, unsettled communication with environment, poor food and daily worsening health conditions – it is current reality in Kutaisi and Geguti prisons.

“One prisoner in each prison have their mouths tied up. They protest court judgment and they request to revise their cases. Two inmates of both prisons started dry hunger-strike four days ago. They request medical service for poor health. One more prisoner, who comes from eastern Georgia and cannot see his family members because of distance, requests to move him to the establishment relevant to his place of residence. These seem very simple problems at first sight but you cannot imagine how difficult it is to resolve them because of complicated bureaucracy. Prisoners have to wait for months to take medical tests, request minimal medical service not to speak about surgeries and special medical assistance,” Ia Bobokhidze said.

She clarified that inmates of Geguti prison drew up 18-member list of prison personnel whom they declared mistrust and requested to forbid those people to personally contact with prisoners: “The prison administration envisaged their request and those 18 people work only outside perimeter of the establishment. However, the prison director said he is waiting for further decrees of the new penitentiary minister Sozar Subari in order to carry out changes in the custody. You know that everything shall be done without paralyzing the system.”

Members of Public Monitoring Council intend to monitor situation in prisons everyday and hope the new penitentiary minister, who has long experience of working with prisoners, will promote their activities.

“The first step to be taken is to destroy corruptive and monopolist internal system and I hope Sozar Subari will start his activities with it. In addition to that, entire administration, administrative resources shall be renovated and qualifications of existing personnel shall be increased. However, we should not breach the balance and work only on the protection of prisoners’ rights and improvement of their conditions. We should also try to create proper working conditions for prison personnel. I think monitoring of this direction will also be important. Safe food and health are the main issues. The fact that inmates are not physically assaulted does not mean that every problem was eradicated in prisons,” Ia Bobokhidze said.

Member of temporary monitoring council Manana Managadze, who was chairwoman of public control commission of Kutaisi Prison # 2 in 2006-2008, said: “Current situation in prison and those video-footage was result of stopped functioning of public commissions. You know, in 2005 public control commissions were established in Georgian penitentiary establishments. Those groups started serious work in every prison. There was defense mechanism – open-eye in penitentiary establishments. They prepared recommendations to penitentiary department, ministry of justice and some of those recommendations were envisaged by those institutions and set of problems were resolved as well.”

On December 31, 2008 government of Georgia refused to continue authority of these groups. “It happened without any clarifications and motivation when those groups started high-qualified activities. It was the case when job was done for job and not for their PR. Naturally, there were some shortcomings, obstacles created by the government. However, we should admit that those groups acted key role in preventing penitentiary establishments from being absolutely isolated from society. I can declare now that activities of those groups were halted because of their purpose whose outcome we saw in those video footages. Every prisoner, who we met, alleged that tragedy started in prisons after January 2009 when our groups stopped working,” Manana Managadze said.

Before 2009, Code on Imprisonment envisaged presence of local commissions of public control in penitentiary establishments. This article was removed from the code. Now, lawmakers work on the amendments to the Code on Imprisonment and members of public monitoring council think significant progress will be achieved in the field of public control of prisons. In the end, it will positively impact conditions of inmates in penitentiary establishments.

Members of public monitoring council intend to visit Khoni prison in near future.

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