A statement of NGOs regarding the case of prisoner who died in the Geguti prison

As the public knows from the information released by official agencies, on May 13, 2013, 24-year-old prisoner Levan Kortava was cruelly beaten in the Geguti penal institution, which resulted in his death on May 23 of the same year. The investigation into this case has revealed a number of circumstances that cause concern.

According to the official information, on May 12, 2013, Levan Kortava was transferred from the Rustavi Penal Institution No. 6 to the Geguti Penal Institution No. 14. When Levan Kortava was being admitted to the Geguti prison, he and the inspector of the Security Division, Ilia Shanshiashvili, had an argument in connection with issuance of psychotropic medications. Ilia Shanshiashvili directed convict Shota Sinauridze to handle the conflict with Levan Kortava, after which several prisoners beat Levan Kortava with particular cruelty, and the latter died from injuries sustained during the beating.

According to the same official information, during the investigation, both the persons who were directly involved in the beating of the prisoner and the employee of the Geguti Penal Institution, Ilia Shanshiashvili, have been detained. In addition, according to the statement released by the Prosecutor’s Office, employees of the institution, Giga Kokhodze and Aleksandre Babunashvili, will be charged with neglect of official duty, and Tengiz Nasareia – with fabrication of evidence on the criminal case. As there is a high probability that there are so-called “prison watchers” in the penal institution, the Prosecutor’s Office must study the issue of involvement of the head of the prison, Mr. Malkhaz Sinauridze, in this incident. It is also noteworthy that Malkhaz Sinauridze testified against several prisoners on the case of the prison riot that took place in 2006. After the parliamentary elections of 2012, Sinauridze changed his testimony and testified against the former Minister of Defense and of Internal Affairs, Bacho Akhalaia, stating that Bacho Akhalaia had organized the prison riot.

According to news reports, a week after Sinauridze changed his testimony, he was appointed the head of the Geguti prison.

We would like to express our deepest concern about the fact that took place in the Geguti prison. It is alarming that, according to the information released by the investigation, an employee of the Geguti prison directed prisoners of the same institution who presumably wielded certain criminal authority in the prison to exert unlawful influence on a prisoner (which was followed by beating and, finally, death of the prisoner).

Representative of the Ministry of Corrections have stated several times that there are so-called “prison watchers” in penal institutions. The aforementioned statement is important in the sense that the State has acknowledged the existence of the problem, though it is necessary to take timely and effective steps to eradicate it. The incident that took place makes it clear that unless the State responds adequately, similar incidents, unlawful links between prisoners and prison employees, and cases of prioritizing certain prisoners in an institution may assume a systematic character.  When a similar case is identified, the State must respond adequately and establish to what extent senior officials of the penal institution were involved, though their action or inaction, in committing the aforementioned crimes. We believe that it is less likely that the senior officials of the prison knew nothing about the aforementioned methods of governance.

We call on the authorities of Georgia to ensure that the legislation is improved in such a way that the possibilities of informal governance in prisons are brought down to the minimum, on the one hand, and to strengthen the system of internal monitoring in the institutions, which will enable the Ministry to eradicate facts of informal governance in penal institutions, on the other hand.

We call on the Ministry of Corrections, Probation and Legal Assistance of Georgia to:

  • study the general situation and methods of governance in the Geguti prison as soon as possible;
  • raise the question of responsibility of senior officials of the Geguti prison;
  • carry out effective monitoring in penal institutions, in order to eradicate facts of informal governance that presumably take place there.

We call on the Office of the Public Defender of Georgia to study the concrete circumstances of the aforementioned case. It is also important that the Public Defender’s Office direct its efforts to identification, prevention, and eradication of similar problems in other penal institutions and inform the public on a permanent basis about problems that exist in penal institutions.

The aforementioned fact makes it clear once again that the penitentiary system is in need of public monitoring. We believe that it is necessary to allow representatives of NGOs to carry out an alternative monitoring, independently of the national Prevention Mechanism, which will help contribute to the identification of problems existing in penal institutions, prevention of offences, and better identification of existing challenges.