New minister for prison system, Sozar Subari, accused on November 5 previous authorities of being behind recent developments and tensions in several prison facilities and of trying to stage disorders within the penitentiary.
After taking the office together with new cabinet on October 25, Subari said that he would have to walk a tightrope to avoid on the one hand slipping situation out of control inside prison facilities and on the other hand to prevent inmates’ abuse.
“Keeping that balance is not easy – to maintain order within prisons on the one hand while protecting high standards of human rights on the other,” Subari told Maestro TV on October 29.
Subari had to confront his first challenge few days later when inmates of prison No.16 in Rustavi demanded sacking of newly appointed head of that prison Levan Aburjania; inmates’ allegations against him ranged from intimidating and threatening inmates to his alleged past wrongdoings when he served as local police chief in one of Tbilisi’s neighborhoods.
Situation in prisons has always been a sensitive issue in Georgia, but responsiveness to any kind of report coming from penitentiary increased especially after prisoners’ abuse videos emerged less than two weeks before the October 1 parliamentary elections.
About two dozen of inmates were reportedly on hunger strike in Rustavi prison demanding sacking of Aburjania. Meanwhile, relatives of part of inmates were gathered outside the Rustavi prison also calling for sacking of Aburjania. Developments were accompanied by rumors, which were not confirmed, that the prison administration was intending to deploy or already deployed special purpose unit in the prison.
But Rustavi prison chief, Levan Aburjania, claimed that inmates’ complaints against him emerged because of his intention to eradicate so called institution of makurebeli (a Georgian word that can literally be translated as watcher or observer) – a group of influential prisoners informally overseeing and controlling other inmates, usually with tacit acceptance from prison administration.
On November 1 Public Defender’s Office, whose representatives monitored situation in the prison, called on the penitentiary system ministry to study inmates’ allegations. On November 2 the prison system ministry announced about suspending Aburjania from his office, pending probe by internal investigations unit into allegations made by inmates. After that decision by the ministry, Aburjania filed for resignation and complained that the minister yielded to groundless demands and allegations of inmates.
On November 1 Subari had to also revise his decision made just a day earlier about appointing Guram Kereselidze as new head of penitentiary system’s medical center. Subari said that he decided not to appoint Kereselidze, citing that this appointment "caused quite a negative response in medical circles."
After tensions over Rustavi prison started to recede, similar developments started to unfold in Ksani prison No.15 in Shida Kartli region. Relatives of inmates started to gather outside the Ksani prison on November 4, saying that inmates informed them about deployment of special purpose unit inside the prison – the allegation was not confirmed by representatives from public monitoring group, which is entitled to visit penitentiary facilities for monitoring purposes.
Ksani prison inmates are demanding sacking of new head of that prison, Nukri Khukhua, whom the inmates accuse of abusing prisoners in the past when he served on various other posts in penitentiary system. According to Public Defender’s Office, whose representatives visited the Ksani prison on November 4, thirteen inmates have sewn mouths shut demanding improvement of conditions, including healthcare, in the Ksani prison. They also demand removing restrictions, such as ban on conversation in canteen, which, they say, was imposed by the prison administration, according the Public Defender’s Office.
Last night relatives of inmates scuffled with servicemen, who are guarding an outer perimeter of the Ksani prison facility during which one serviceman was beaten.
“Probe has been launched into an insult of a serviceman and an attempted intrusion into the prison; the case has been referred to the Interior Ministry,” Sozar Subari, the prison system minister, said on November 5. “Everyone who will try to violate the law will be held responsible.”
“There has not been any major violation by the inmates in Ksani prison and no measures will be taken against them. But very severe measures will be undertaken against any prisoner who will not observe the rules,” Subari said.
He also said that for days the authorities were refraining taking any strict measures against those who were gathering outside the prison facilities.
“But the law explicitly defines that no rallies should be held within 20-meter perimeter outside penitentiary facility; therefore administrative measures will be taken against anyone who violates this law,” Subari said.
Subari has claimed that the previous authorities were trying to fuel tensions within the penitentiary system.
“It’s obvious that the most vulnerable point [the penitentiary system] is used by the previous authorities for mounting pressure [on the new government]. They [the previous authorities] have certain levers to stage disorders, but situation is fully under control,” Subari said.
He also said that investigation was launched against six inmates of prison No.1 in Tbilisi into what he said was an attempt to organize disorders within the prison facility.