Human rights advocacy organizations have been talking about unbearable conditions in Georgian Penitentiary System for a long time. Torturing and beating of prisoners took the form of an ordinary process after “Rose Revolution”. Only parents and lawyers of the prisoners have access to the information about unbearable conditions in prisons. However, they are not willing to talk about that openly as they know that if they make concrete facts of beating and torturing public, they will create even bigger threat to prisoners. The number of prisoners who died as a result of torture, inappropriate medical treatment and negligent attitude exceeded 150. Giorgi Tevzadze, a human rights defender, was interviewed by “The Georgia and World” about the conditions in Georgian prisons.
_ Giorgi, what could you say about the conditions in Penitentiary System? Has the number of beating, torturing and deaths increased in prisons?
_ Unfortunately, prisons have become the places where prisoners are beaten and tortured. Torture and inhuman attitude have been formed as an integral part of the process. The number of death has also increased. Majority of prisoners have tuberculosis. The information about torture that comes from prisons seems to be a drop in the sea as the parents of the prisoners do not want to make the facts public; if they do, the prisoners will be severely tortured. The same with lawyers: they are made to keep silence and not talk about the tortured prisoners. Mr. Kalandia was severely beaten by the Administration of Zugdidi prison; He had the traces of torture on his body. The prisoner died when he was being transferred to Tbilisi. He had been sentenced to a three-year imprisonment. He was to be released in April 2012. The body was inspected. Based on the information of external inspection, he had some injuries: his nose was broken, ha head a broken finger and traces of beating on his body – some red stripes. Supposedly, he was beaten with batons; there were traces of cigarettes on his wrists. The fact is that before that, mother visited the prisoner. She said he was healthy and did not complain about his health.
Prisoner Tariel Sakvarelidze who was in Rustavi prison had mental problems. He was permanently beaten by the prison administration. As it became known from his lawyer, he cut off his ear and ate it. It is still unknown whether prisoner Sakvarelidze cut off his ear or his ear was cut off when he was tortured. The fact is that the pressure from the prison administration made him do that.
The conditions are very hard in the Gldani facility #8. Prisoners won’t go there.
_ What do you mean by hard conditions? Are they tortured or the conditions are bad?
_ The reason is beating and torturing. You may remember the fact of beating of prisoner Kakhaber Baratashvili because he asked for a doctor as he felt ache in his kidney. He is still serving his sentence under terrible conditions.
Ivane Menapire died in the Republican Hospital. He was diagnosed with cancer. He was serving his sentence based on article 177 of the Criminal Code. He was sentenced to a 6-year-and-6-month imprisonment. His lawyer, Shota Galashvili, was systematically demanding medical examination and history of the prisoner’s medical condition for external medical examination. He could not get them for three months. Administration did not give him the documents deliberately. After that the prisoner was severely beaten; his crutches and wheel-chair were taken away and he could not move; he did not receive medical treatment. As a result his wounds started to decay. The lawyer was not allowed to visit him, which is a severe violation of the law; the rights of the prisoner and his lawyer were infringed. Ivane Menapire died in prison and the reason of his death was the prison administration beating the prisoner and not rendering medical treatment. The prisoners are beaten even for whispering to one another.
_ Do the prisoners transferred to prison hospital say anything?
_ They cannot tell the truth even at prison hospital. Actually only the prisoners who are dying are transferred to prison hospital. They cannot even talk. However, even they are under pressure. It is very difficult for lawyers or family members to enter the hospital and visit prisoners.
_ Have there been cases of early release of prisoners?
_ There were such cases before the Rose Revolution. Presently it happens very rarely. However, they may release a prisoner who has left several days before his death; sometimes they do not do even that and prisoners die in the prison hospital. Prisoner Kekelia is in very hard conditions. Representatives of the Penitentiary System did not agree on his release at the court session. However, it was not a surprise. We all know that. His lawyer appealed to Strasbourg Court, and only based on the Strasbourg decision Kekelia was given the possibility to receive treatment. Unfortunately, many prisoners will die before Strasbourg Court makes its decision. 80% of the prisoners have tuberculosis while medicines are not enough and they do not receive relevant treatment.
_ What is the basis for stating that 80% of the prisoners have tuberculosis?
_ The situation is very difficult in Ksani colony where majority of the prisoners have tuberculosis. Even worse, the administration does not separate those prisoners from the healthy ones resulting in spreading the disease. At the same time, the Minister Kalmakhelidze states that the conditions in prisons are good. We should demand to show us at least one single cured prisoner.
_ Giorgi, a special program was implemented for those having tuberculosis. Is the program still valid?
_ The program was implemented before the Rose Revolution. Presently, it is suspended, and that’s why we have so many sick prisoners. They are beaten and are not rendered any treatment. Very often, prisoners die in the wards.
One more prisoner, Avtandil Abubelashvili, died in the Ksani colony on April 7. He was also sick with tuberculosis and did not receive timely treatment. Such cases are not rare. However, neither the Minister nor administration does anything to transfer such prisoners to the hospital and cure them.
_ As a human rights advocate, have you even applied to the Minister to study the conditions in the prison?
_ Yes, many times. We asked Kalmakhelidze to establish a Monitoring Council with the participation of human rights advocates, as it was before the Rose Revolution, and let us enter the prisons. If nothing bad is going on there, as Ms. Kalmakhelidze states, let them open the doors and allow us to enter the prisons. Ms. Kalmakhelidze id completely aware of what is happening in there. By the way, after her visits beating and torture become more severe.
_ Do you think that Minister Kalmakhelidze gives orders to beat the prisoners?
_ I cannot say that. It might not be that way. However, the fact is that hyperactive staff does that, and we have not seen anybody punished for such actions. I think that beating prisoners by prison administration serves one goal – to make people scared.