A group of local civil society organizations, including Georgian Democracy Initiative, Rehabilitation Initiative for Vulnerable Groups, Transparency International – Georgia, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and Article 42 of the Constitution, has slammed Georgian Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani for publishing the footage of monitoring carried out by the Public Defender’s National Preventive Mechanism, as well as for voicing unconstructive criticism towards one of the experts of this group.
In a statement released on January 21, the CSOs wrote that such action “grossly violates” the principles set by Georgian legislation and “contradicts international commitments undertaken by Georgia.” “This action by the Georgian Justice Minister should become the reason for raising her political responsibility,” the statement reads.
The Public Defender talked about the scales of informal governance in the penitentiary institutions, as well as health care, overcrowding, staff shortage and rehabilitation-resocialization problems. According to her, there is no violence-free environment in the establishments and the criminal subculture creates danger of ill-treatment, including physical and severe psychological violence.
Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who also attended the yesterday’s committee hearing, slammed the Ombudsperson’s representative involved in the monitoring, saying that “this is the Public Defender’s representative, who asks a prisoner to make coffee for him twice, then eats his chocolate, smokes his cigarette and even uses a toilet in a cell, remaining in the regime of monitoring for four hours.” Later the Justice Ministry’s Special Penitentiary Service released a relevant video.
The CSOs said that “the National Preventive Mechanism is the only body mandated to enter prisons without a special permit and examine the inmate rights situation on the ground.” They added that this mechanism is the only source of information about the current situation in penitential facilities.
The CSOs also noted that when defining the functions of experts of the National Preventive Mechanism, the Law on the Public Defender of Georgia refers to the principles defined by the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. According to them, one of the main commitments undertaken by Georgia by signing this document “concerns the confidentiality of a meeting between an inmate and an expert of the National Preventive Mechanism.”
“According to this article, the States undertake a commitment, according to which members of the Special Preventive Mechanism shall meet and talk personally or with assistance of an interpreter, without witnesses, with detainees, prisoners or persons whose liberty is otherwise restricted, as well as with persons who may provide information about violations of the rights of those persons,” the statement reads.
According to the same law, “the meetings of the Public Defender of Georgia / a member of the Special Preventive Group with detainees, prisoners or persons whose liberty is otherwise restricted, convicted persons, persons in psychiatric facilities, old people’s and children’s homes shall be confidential. Any kind of eavesdropping and surveillance shall be prohibited.”
The CSOs stated that “even if a representative of the National Preventive Mechanism decides to talk to an inmate under video surveillance, release of a footage is categorically inadmissible and grossly violates the above principles.”
According to the statement, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture also writes in its 2018 report about inter-prisoner violence and influence of criminal subculture.
The CSOs added that since the penitentiary system merged with the Justice Ministry, in most cases, the former does not release public information. The organizations laid entire responsibility for it on Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani.