Torture in prisons, mistreatment of prisoners, illegal arrests and abused police discretion have reappeared on the agenda only five months after the Rose Revolution, the leaders of which publicly pledged to put an end to the violence and abuse by the law-enforcement bodies. Georgian human rights defender NGOs are concerned by the activities of post-revolution law-enforcement bodies, which they consider not only continued reprehensible traditions of their disgraced predecessors but more so. Human rights defenders maintain that torture still remains the main method of investigation by the Georgian police in violation of the criminal code, which implies an eight-year prison term for gaining information by force.
On May 25, several Georgian human rights organizations and criminal defense lawyers conducted a protest rally in front of the Interior Ministry building, staging the first anti-torture rally since the Rose Revolution. Protesters decorated building with the signs stating, “Stop Torture of Prisoners,” and “Observe Law and Human Rights.” Protesters demanded that the Interior Ministry prosecute the policemen who had beaten to death two people. Georgian police uses the cruelest methods of torture, including electroshock, the NGOs said. They handed over to ministry officials a list of 45 prisoners who underwent torture in the police detention center. There has been no reaction from the ministry despite repeated appeals of human rights activists. NGOs complain that the new ministry staff has significantly restricted the access of human rights organizations to detention centers in contrast to former ministry leadership. NGOs compare the current period with the worst times of violence in the turbulent 1990s. The NGOs want more transparency police procedures and more civic control over law-enforcement bodies, appealing to the promises of the new government to do away with all negative inherited from the past.
Nana Kakabadze, chair of the NGO “Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights” and lawyer Eka Beselia, defender at the numerous and much-discussed trails, claim to have evidence that under new Minister of Interior Giorgi Baramidze, torture in prisons and detention centers have become more frequent, resulting in two deaths. Beselia said that in 2003 there were no cases of violent death in the prisons. (“Rustavi-2-TV”, Mtavari Gazeti, Resonance May 26). They said that no policeman has been convicted for torture, so far.
Mzia Alavidze, chair of the NGO “Council of Civic Monitoring,” said that, after studying dozens of cases, they had discovered that dishonest policemen arrested innocent people by planting on them drugs or firearms (24 Hours, May 28). MP, Elene Tevdoradze, chair of the parliamentary committee for human rights, drew attention to severe conditions in the Georgian penitentiary system. “It’s a torture itself when a prison designed for 1,200 people hosts 2003 instead,” she said. Tevdoradze is ringing alarming bells about the situation in detention centers where, according to her, confessions are routinely obtained through beating. She said that appeals to the prosecutor’s office concerning mistreatment have gone unheard (Resonance May 27).
Lado Chanturia, chair of the Georgian Supreme Court, is also critical of the government. He said that it is impossible for judicial authority to function normally in a country which does not follow the rule of law, has no political culture, and no political will to improve the situation (Mtavari Gazeti, May 25). Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry remained on the defensive and responded to the NGO charges by holding a news conference on May 28. Irakli Kldiashvili, deputy minister, reported that 62 policemen have been fired for different offences over the last four months. He noted that the prosecutors’ office has investigated 86 cases of police malfeasance. The usual police response to such charges over the last several years, likely will not satisfy the NGOs, which have witnessed the covering up of cases against corrupt police officers.
On June 2, Giorgi Getsadze, chairman of the Justice Council, convened a news conference to support widespread accusations against police and the Interior Ministry for illegal arrest of citizens through fabricated charges. Getsadze’s criticism came shortly after charges against the regional court of Kutaisi, Georgia’s second-largest city, by Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze. On June 1, Baramidze publicly accused the court of bribe taking for the release from custody of Baiko Dvalishvili, a local criminal boss who was arrested by police for carrying firearms. The court, nevertheless, found police actions illegal. Getsadze said that arrests of people following the planting of firearms on their persons have become a customary method of the Interior Ministry.
During the last decade, international human rights organizations have systematically criticized Georgia for human rights abuse by police and torture of prisoners. But it seems that little has changed for the better. One of the explanations might be that the law -enforcement bodies, which have never showed respected human rights, play a key role in the “revolutionary regime,” which new Georgian government still operates. Therefore, rights of prisoners and police behavior are not priority concerns. The telling fact is that after the Rose Revolution the post of Georgia’s human rights defender (ombudsman) remains vacant.