At least six political prisoners were sentenced after proceedings which appeared to fall short of international fair trial standards. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment in detention continued. One man died after reportedly being beaten by police officers. At least six people were sentenced to death; the real figure was thought to be higher. At least 50 others remained on death row, but no executions took place. An official moratorium on executions was declared in December. In the disputed region of Abkhazia dozens of people were reportedly detained because of their ethnic origin. At least one person was awaiting execution. Around 200,000 ethnic Georgians displaced by the conflict continued to face obstacles to their return. The situation in Abkhazia remained tense. The mandates of both the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the peace-keeping force from the Commonwealth of Independent States were renewed, but talks on the political future of the region remained deadlocked. Progress was made, however, regarding the self-proclaimed territory of South Ossetia. In May, both sides signed a memorandum pledging to reject the use or threat of force or persecution based on ethnic origin, and in August President Eduard Shevardnadze met the leader of the South Ossetian authorities. The post of Public Defender, established to monitor the defence of human rights and freedoms (see Amnesty International Report 1996), had not been filled by the end of the year. In November, the UN Committee against Torture considered Georgia's initial report under the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Georgia's report admitted that torture continued in places of detention, that law enforcement agencies did not always ensure proper investigation of such violations, as a result of which those responsible frequently went unpunished, and that conditions in many penal institutions were degrading. The Committee against Torture expressed concern about the volume of complaints of torture, particularly related to the extraction of confessions; the failure to investigate promptly claims of torture and to prosecute alleged offenders; the grossly inadequate conditions in places of detention; and the unwillingness of many law enforcement officers to respect the rights of people under investigation and prisoners. In December, President Shevardnadze announced an official moratorium on executions, and parliament voted to reduce the number of capital offences from 13 to seven. Six political prisoners were convicted in June after a trial which appeared to fall short of international fair trial standards. Their confessions did not appear to have been ruled inadmissible, although all alleged that they had been obtained under physical duress. Zviad Sherozia, for example, claimed that he was hung by the feet and beaten and had a grenade forced into his mouth. Badri Zarandia was sentenced to death, while his co-defendants received various terms of imprisonment. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment in detention continued. In August, an official of the Prosecutor-General's office stated that police officers had frequently tortured detainees, including by giving them electric shocks. Later that month the trial opened in Tbilisi of the former deputy head of the Tbilisi police anti-drug department and four co-officers. They were accused of, among other things, using electric shocks on suspects. In December, David Amashukeli died after being arrested on suspicion of drug abuse. Doctors at the drug examination centre where he was taken reportedly stated that he had been so severely beaten they were unable to carry out tests for drugs. He was then taken to hospital in Tibilisi but was pronounced dead on arrival. Three police officers were reportedly arrested in connection with the incident. At least six people were sentenced to death during the year, but the real figure was thought to be higher. No executions were carried out. Around 50 men were believed to be under sentence of death at the end of the year. Dozens of Georgians were allegedly detained by Abkhazian police forces solely on grounds of their ethnic origin. In one incident 20 Georgians were said to have been detained in the village of Dikhazurgia, Gali district, after a mine exploded under a vehicle driven by Russian peace-keeping forces. Thirteen were reportedly released after a ransom was paid. The others were released over the following three weeks. At least one man remained under sentence of death in Abkhazia. Ethnic Georgian Ruzgen Gogokhiya had been convicted in 1995 of terrorist acts against civilians (see Amnesty International Report 1996). In May, the de facto Abkhazian authorities informed Amnesty International that he had the services of a lawyer throughout the trial, had an appeal pending before the Supreme Court of Abkhazia, and in addition had the right to petition for clemency. Many of the estimated 200,000 ethnic Georgians displaced by the conflict in Abkhazia continued to face obstacles to their return, on what appeared to be grounds of their ethnicity and suspected political sympathies. In July, the UN Security Council again condemned the continued obstruction by the de facto Abkhazian authorities of the voluntary return of refugees and displaced people. Amnesty International called for a judicial review of the case of Badri Zarandia and his co-defendants and a full, prompt and impartial investigation into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody, with the results made public and any perpetrators identified brought to justice. It appealed for all death sentences to be commuted, and for immediate moves to ensure that all those sentenced to death had the right to appeal to a higher court. Amnesty International urged the de facto Abkhazian authorities to ensure the security of all residents, regardless of ethnic origin, and sought further information on the cases of all Georgians still allegedly detained on ethnic grounds. Amnesty International also expressed concern at reports that Abkhazian police officers had demanded money for the release of some prisoners and asked what steps had been taken, if any, to investigate those allegations. The organization urged the de facto Abkhazian authorities to commute all death sentences, including that imposed on Ruzgen Gogokhiya, and sought further information on the application of the death penalty. Amnesty International also urged the de facto Abkhazian authorities to take all appropriate and timely measures to ensure the voluntary return of refugees and displaced people, under conditions in which their safety, and the safety of those who had already spontaneously returned, would be guaranteed.

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