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Commissions seek to send prisoners home for New Year

By Salome Modebadze
Wednesday, December 30
A special session of the Parliamentary Commission on Early Conditional Release, known as the UDO Commission, was held on December 29.

“The session will recommend prisoners for release, including women and underage prisoners in different categories. They will be considered for release if they have served at least half of their sentence and have been given a testimonial by the prison administration,” stated Eka Kherkheulidze, the First Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee who has replaced Gia Arsenishvili, Chairman of the Committee, as the Parliamentary majority representative at the UDO Commission. The previous UDO session held on December 10 released 71 prisoners.

“The main decisions are generally made by representatives of the Ministry of Penitentiary, Probation and Legal Assistance as this has the majority of the membership, but our main responsibility is to ensure the transparency of the process,” stated Dimitri Lortkipanidze, another Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee and representative of the minority at the UDO Commission. The exact number of prisoners recommended for release will be presented to the city court on December 30 and the court will make a final decision on these cases in about a week.

A special session of the Pardon Commission, which presents recommendations to the President rather than the city court, will also be held on December 30 to discuss the cases of another 100 prisoners. These 100 include 14 women and 4 underage prisoners, but three further cases of adults have been from the list as they do not fulfil the relevant criteria. Gia Arsenishvili, who remains a member of the Pardon Commission, explained that very careful consideration of these additional cases will create a thorough list of prisoners who can be recommended for early release. The final recommendations of the fifteen-member Pardon Commission will be sent to President Saakashvili and those released will be able to see the New Year in with their families.

Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, the Minister of Penitentiary, Probation and Legal Assistance, also met Giorgi Tugushi, the Public Defender, to discuss cooperation with his office on December 29. This was the first meeting between the Minister and the Public Defender. “I am absolutely ready to take the Public Defender’s recommendations into consideration and conduct active cooperation with his office. We should both defend the rights of prisoners, thus our cooperation is very important,” Khatuna Kalmakhelidze stated.

Giorgi Tugushi spoke about the early release of the prisoners and stressed the importance of sharing information with the Ministry. Changes in the organic law made in 2009 concerning the rights of the Public Defender entitle him to enter any facility run by the Penitentiary Ministry with members of a specially created commission to ensure the transparency of the penitentiary system and prevent torture.

The next UDO session will be held in January 2010 and will discuss the cases of prisoners who presented their documentation to the Commission too late to be considered this time round.