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Controversies over prison monitoring group

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, December 26
Journalists might be removed from the prison monitoring group. Statements concerning the issue were made by the journalists of the group and the former Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance, Giorgi Tughushi on December 25. There are controversies over the terms of the monitoring group as well. Some explanations were made by the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance.

A 51 member monitoring group was formed after the prisoners’ torture and abuse scandal in September. The group consists of civil society and media representatives.

The Ministry of Correction and Legal Assistance claims that through the decree signed by the former minister, the monitoring group’s working term expires on January 1.

“The statements suggesting that the ministry hinders journalists and the group’s being in prison are far from reality. The decision made that journalists should be removed from the group was made with more votes during the meeting of local and international NGOs on December 22-23, where the ministry performed as a moderator only. The aim of the meeting was to explain the structure of how the group might perform in the future and which rules should be protected by them,” the Ministry statement reads.

Tughushi claims that the term of the group expires on January 31. There is material proof of this. However, the Ministry also has a decree where the term expires on January 1.

“If journalists are not in the group it should be explained why. I have heard that the reason of such a decision is that the journalists are taking exclusive interviews from prison. However, journalists have the right to send a letter to an inmate and get answers through this method. I think that having journalist in the group is more positive than negative,” Tughushi said.

Member of the monitoring group, journalist Khatuna Gagnidze, told The Messenger that the journalist members of the group were kept from appropriately participating in the meeting held on December 22-23.

“I should point out that the only two journalists were invited from the group. However, they could not attend as they had a special occasion and the ministry had been informed about it… the decision concerning journalists removal was made on the first day. Only the second day one of the journalists managed to attend the meeting and he was told that there were two reasons why the journalists should not be in the group: non professional actions and taking exclusives from prison,” Gagnidze said.

“Such action through correspondence is absolutely lawful and we have such a right. I can state with complete responsibility that journalists’ actions in prisons were absolutely professional and important,” Gagnidze said.

Executive Director of Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Eka Popkhadze gave additional information concerning the issues for The Messenger.

According to her, the reason of the meeting, where GYLA also took part was to discuss the rules for the monitoring group which would be obeyed by all members of the group.

“Such rules did not exist,” Popkhadze said. According to her, when the journalists' participation was discussed in the group, only three members of the meeting raised their hands as a sign of support.

“We did not raise hand as well but it does not mean that we are against of having journalists in the group. We thing that the rules should be elaborated and all the members should obey them,” Popkhadze said, adding that it would be better if journalists’ issue were discussed after adoption of such a regulation.

As for the confusing terms, Popkhadze stated that expert research should be carried out to establish which document is genuine.

“We have seen both of the documents. Based on the one term expires on January 1, 2013, based on another on January 31, 2013.”