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Georgia: Amnesty International Calls For Halt In Torture Of Prisoners

London, 7 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International says police and prison officers in Georgia have continued to use torture against suspects held in custody even though their government has signed international conventions against torture and other ill-treatment.

The London-based rights movement says police and prison guards have used electric shock treatment against detainees; have beaten them in order to extract confessions; and, in one case, forced a hand grenade into a man's mouth and threatened to remove the safety pin.

A new Amnesty report, "Georgia: Torture and Ill-Treatment," makes a series of recommendations to Georgian authorities, who admit the problem of prison cruelty, about how to eliminate such illegal practices.

The report is timed to coincide with a session in Geneva this month of the U.N. Committee against Torture. This will examine Georgia's record in living up to its promises to eliminate "torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners."

The report says since Georgia achieved its independence after the break-up of the Soviet Union, it has moved gradually towards building democratic institutions and reforming its judicial and legal systems.

Georgia has also become a party to a number of international human rights treaties. It has acceded to the Convention against Torture and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which prohibit the use of torture and other cruel punishments.

The report says AI welcomes these advances, particularly as they have been made against a background, especially in the early years of independence, of economic and political dislocation and civil war.

But the report says: "Torture and ill-treatment have continued in custody, on the admission of the Georgian authorities themselves, with those responsible frequently going unpunished."

Georgia's own report to the UN Committee against Torture says its authorities are "seriously concerned that instances of torture continue in places of pre-trial detention and places where sentences are served."

And Tenghiz Makharadze, an official of the Prosecutor-General's office, said in August that police have frequently tortured detainees, and in at least one case, subjected two men to electric shock treatment.

A separate report described a trial in Tbilisi, also in August, of a senior officer, Gela Kavtelishvili, who stood accused, together with four other policemen, of using electric shocks while investigating a murder.

Six political prisoners sentenced by the Georgian Supreme Court in June all alleged they had been tortured in order to force a confession.

One of them, Badri Zarandia, sentenced to death by the court on charges of treason and banditry, was a former commander of the western town of Zugdidi when it was controlled by forces loyal to former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

He claims he was beaten with rifle butts while recovering from an operation to amputate his leg (after being wounded on arrest) and that he confessed to murder after threats were made against close relatives. (AI, which calls the death penalty cruel and degrading, has protested moves to execute him and other prisoners on "death row" in Georgia.)

In order to prevent torture, AI makes a number of recommendations. It says detainees should be informed of their rights, including the right to complain to authorities about ill-treatment: that people held for interrogation should be told promptly of the charges against them; that authorities should investigate all complaints of ill-treatment and punish those responsible: and that police and prison staff should be made aware of the "absolute prohibition against the use of torture."