Death of a 39-year-old male inmate in prison hospital made headlines in many Georgian media outlets on May 3, after his wife claimed that her husband “was beaten to death” citing, what she said was, bodily injuries.
These allegations have not been substantiated by an expert from an independent forensic bureau, Vector, who examined the body late on May 3 upon the request from the deceased prisoner’s family. The forensic medical examiner confirmed the penitentiary ministry’s initial finding, that what the family said were bodily injuries, resulting from beating, were in fact bedsores, which, the forensic examiner said, was indicating on lack of proper care of the patient in the prison hospital.
Earlier on May 3, when the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance released a statement to respond to allegations of the deceased inmate’s family, it also disclosed information related to health of the prisoner. The move prompted Public Defender Giorgi Tugushi’s lengthy statement accusing the ministry of violating constitution by releasing personal health-related information; the Public Defender called on the law enforcement agencies to launch an investigation into the case.
The ministry in charge of penitentiary said in the statement that the inmate, who was serving a six-year prison term for purchasing and possessing 500 grams of marijuana, was transferred to the prison hospital on March 7, but despite of “intensive treatment” died on May 1.
“For the purpose of protecting confidentiality, the ministry was not willing to release detailed information about the health condition of the inmate, but because of high public interest and because of some media reports, the ministry deemed it necessary to make public some details: the convict suffered from the acute form of venereal diseases,” the statement reads.
The ministry also said that it had launched a probe into the inmate’s death, which required “a detailed examination, but according to a preliminary supposition, bedsores and postmortem lividity are possibly present over the deceased convict’s [body].”
Public Defender, Giorgi Tugushi, said in the statement on May 4, that release of health-related information of the deceased inamate was a violation of clause two of article 41 of constitution, which reads: “The information existing on official papers pertaining to individual’s health, his/her finances or other private matters, shall not be accessible to anyone without the consent of the individual in question except in the cases determined by law, when it is necessary for ensuring the state security or public safety, for the protection of health, rights and freedoms of others.”
Tugushi said, that disclosure of information about sexually transmitted disease of a person was making the case a special one.
“I believe, that this particular case also involves elements of intruding into patient’s private and family life, because type of disease which has been disclosed by the Ministry of Penitentiary goes far beyond the issue of solely individual’s health,” Tugushi says.
He said that the argument – “high public interest” – cited by the Ministry behind its decision to release health-related information “does not represent a ground for a disclosure” of such information.
Such action, he said, was punishable under the Georgian criminal code.
“I call on the relevant law enforcement agencies to launch an investigation into this case and to file criminal charges against those responsible [for disclosure of this information]; on the other hand, I call on the Georgian Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance to take appropriate measures in order to prevent such rights violation in the future,” the Public Defender said.