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Tugushi becomes new Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, September 21
Former Public Defender Giorgi Tugushi has become the new Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance. Introducing Tugushi in his new position this Thursday President Mikheil Saakashvili promised to give him total freedom for reforming the penitentiary system.

Tugushi said when he used to write about problems in the penitentiary system most of his recommendations remained unheard by the government while now he has a chance to implement them. “The system will obey the reforms,” the new minister said stressing that renovation of the system and protection of inmates' rights will be his main priorities.

By accepting the President’s proposal the former Public Defender said he will make major changes in the system and ensure protection of inmates' rights. He added that improper conduct towards inmates is not the only problem at penitentiary facilities but promised to eradicate any type of violation step-by-step.

Tugushi said the Georgian penitentiary system should serve the correction and re-socialization of inmates not their traumatisation and deprivation of their dignity.

The former Public Defender said it was difficult for him to leave the position where he has been protecting human rights for three years, He said the Public Defender’s office had reported problems at penitentiary facilities before but he was not in a position to improve the prison situation.

In his last comment as Public Defender Tugushi said instead of eradicating the problems in the penitentiary system the Ministry of Corrections has been trying to cover them up. He added that if the Ministry had responded to his recommendations in a timely manner the situation would not have gotten out of control and incidents like those at Gldani Prison would not have occurred. The new minister said he will do his best to decrease the number of detainees at penitentiary facilities in the following years and increase the use of probation.

Discouraging all use of violence President Saakashvili said everyone engaged in torturing detainees at Georgian prisons will be punished. He worried that the investigation of the violations appeared to be “late and insufficient.” Recollecting Tugushi’s criticism of the penitentiary system, Saakashvili said the government considered part of his recommendations but “they missed something.”

He said brave people like Tugushi should change the penitentiary system “where everything needs to be changed” and added that the Georgian people should have zero tolerance towards crime and violation of human rights.

Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) member Inga Grigolia said if Giorgi Tugushi really wants to restore fairness as a former Public Defender and now Minister of Corrections, he should demand punishment of his predecessors.

Georgian Dream member Sozar Subari said he could not imagine the protector of human rights sitting at the government session with the Minister of Internal Affairs Bacho Akhalaia – the author of the “criminal system” violating the rights of detainees.

Kakha Kakhishvili head of the Elections and Political Technologies Research Centre said by appointing Tugushi President Saakashvili is trying to neutralize the public protest about the Gldani Prison scandal. Kakhishvili said torture must have been ordered by the Georgian government because he found it impossible to believe that the Ministry of Internal Affairs which “listens to everyone and knows everything about everyone” was not aware of the situation in prisons. “Their aim was to break and morally damage the prisoners,” said Kakhishvili suggesting establishment of a public council which would monitor the situation in prisons at any time without special permission from authorities.

Political analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili suggested Tugushi, who has been a vocal critic of the government's policies, may lose the public's trust by accepting the President’s proposal. Tsiskarishvili is sceptical that anyone will seriously consider Tugushi's recommendations and wondered how the new minister will cooperate with the same government officials who ignored his reports for several years.

But analyst Vasil Tchkoidze thinks that Tugushi’s appointment as head of the penitentiary system was one of the best solutions because the former Public Defender is very familiar with violations in the prison system and can reorganize it. Analyst Soso Tsintsadze also thinks that Tugushi's appointment was "a right, brave and necessary decision.”

In a statement released on September 20th, Georgian NGO's stressed the political responsibility of the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Minister of Justice, and the General Prosecutor’s Office and hoped they would not negatively influence the investigation of torture in Georgian prisons. The statement went on to add that punishment of people torturing prisoners is not enough and demanded that officials neglecting the “horrific” cases violations of human rights should also be punished. Otherwise, they said, the investigation carried out by the government will be mistrusted by the public.

In the same statement the NGOs added that they do not believe that penitentiary officials were unaware of torture against inmates. Insisting on an independent and impartial investigation and alternative monitoring mechanisms in the penitentiary system they stressed the necessity of protecting the families of people who have released the footage showing inmates being tortured.