Covering events from January-December 2001

Head of state and government:
Eduard Shevardnadze
Capital: Tbilisi
Population: 5.2 million
Official language: Georgian
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
2001 treaty ratifications/signatures: Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights

There were numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody. Two people died in custody in circumstances suggesting torture or ill-treatment may have contributed to their deaths. The authorities failed to investigate allegations adequately and bring those responsible to justice. Attacks against members of non-traditional religions continued unabated. Prison conditions were often extremely harsh. In the disputed region of Abkhazia, conscientious objectors to military service continued to face imprisonment. Abkhazia retained the death penalty but no new death sentences were passed and there were no reported executions.


President Eduard Shevardnadze dismissed the entire government on 1 November. His action followed mass protests over an attempted raid two days earlier by Ministry of State Security personnel on the offices of the independent television channel Rustavi-2. The raid was widely interpreted as an act of political intimidation and rekindled debate over the freedom of the media in Georgia, an issue which had come to the fore in July following the murder of Giorgi Sanaya, a well-known journalist with Rustavi-2.

The disputed regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained out of the control of the Georgian authorities and peace talks to regulate their status made little progress. Fighting flared up in October in the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia between armed groups, said to include Georgian and Chechen fighters, and the Abkhaz forces. In November, Georgian authorities claimed that the Russian military bombed the Pankisi Gorge, a border region where the Russian authorities accused the Georgians of sheltering Chechen fighters.

Torture and ill-treatment

Reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention, particularly in order to extract confessions, continued. Allegations persisted that police and investigators obstructed detainees' access to defence lawyers and independent medical personnel, and that complaints of torture and ill-treatment were not pursued impartially or with vigour.

  • On 16 November, Zezva Nadiradze was arrested in the village of Samtavisi in Kaspisky region. Police officers in Tbilisi reportedly tortured him with electric shocks to his genitals, burned him with a cigarette and beat him, in an attempt to force him to confess to a robbery. One officer allegedly attempted to rape him. On 19 November, a medical examination reportedly found bruises, burns and abrasions. At the first court hearing, the judge ordered his release because of his injuries. The criminal case against him remained open. Following a television report about the case, a criminal investigation was opened into his allegations. No one had been charged by the end of 2001.
  • Revaz Bzishvili, a traffic police inspector sentenced in July 2000 to two years' imprisonment for "exceeding his authority" in connection with the death in 1999 of David Vashaqmadze, was released in February, nine months early. The court ordered his release on the grounds of "exemplary behaviour when in detention." David Vashaqmadze had been stopped by officers in November 1999 in Tbilisi and reportedly been beaten so severely by them that he died in hospital two days later.
Deaths in custody

Two people died in police custody: one after a fall from a window in unclear circumstances during police interrogation, the other after reportedly being severely beaten by police.
  • Gia Chichaqua died in January, reportedly six hours after being taken into custody. According to reports police beat him with truncheons during interrogation in Ozurgeti, western Georgia. Reports cited Gia Chichaqua's wife as stating that four drunken policemen, who said they were acting on the orders of their superiors, took him into custody for questioning about a theft. A television report quoted the police chief as saying that Gia Chichaqua died suddenly and that there were no traces of violence on his body. It also cited an unidentified official as saying: "As he was giving evidence, he suddenly felt unwell and died." No independent post-mortem examination was known to have been performed. A police officer was reportedly detained in January in connection with the death, but no one was known to have been brought to trial by the end of the year.
Human rights defender

On 4 May the head of Isolation Prison No. 5 in Tbilisi threatened to "physically annihilate" Nana Kakabadze for criticizing conditions in pre-trial detention. Nana Kakabadze, a member of the non-governmental human rights organization Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, had given an interview to the newspaper Alia after visiting the prison on 2 May. She commented that while most cells in isolation prisons were overcrowded, some were empty. The head of the prison telephoned her at her organization's office, apparently incensed at what he believed was an implication that empty cells were kept for rich prisoners able to bribe officials for the privilege of avoiding extreme overcrowding. The Minister of Justice is reported to have verbally reprimanded the head of the prison within hours of the threat.

Attacks on members of religious minorities

Members of minority religions, such as Evangelical Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and Pentecostalists, were attacked by radical supporters of the Orthodox Church. In the majority of cases, police officers reportedly failed to take action to protect the victims of such attacks, and in some cases they allegedly took part in the violence themselves. Basil Mkalavishvili and another alleged leader of these attacks, Petre (or Gia) Ivanidze, were charged on 3 September in connection with the attacks, but on minor charges which did not involve serious physical assault. Further attacks continued to be reported. For example, on 28 September, a group of around 100 people reportedly set up a roadblock on a main road leading out of Tbilisi towards the town of Marneuli, where a Jehovah's Witness convention was due to be held that day. The Jehovah's Witnesses had reportedly informed the authorities in advance of the convention and received guarantees from the police that proper measures would be taken to protect their right of assembly. However, according to the Jehovah's Witnesses, police stood aside and watched as the group stopped the buses carrying Jehovah's Witness delegates, dragged men, women and children outside, and kicked and punched them and beat them with clubs. Up to 40 people were said to have been injured, around 12 seriously. Police also allegedly stood by and watched as the group looted and set fire to the convention site, and confiscated film and a video camera from the Jehovah's Witnesses.

UN Committee against Torture

In May the Committee against Torture reviewed Georgia's second periodic report on its implementation of the UN Convention against Torture.

The Committee expressed concern that the failure to launch prompt, impartial and full investigations into all the numerous allegations of torture, as well as the lack of sufficient efforts to prosecute alleged offenders, resulted in a state of impunity for the perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment.

The Committee also stated that certain powers of the procuracy and the way in which this institution functions gave rise to serious doubts about its objectivity and the existence of an independent mechanism to hear complaints. It also stated that prison conditions were unacceptable and that provisions for detainees' access to a lawyer, to a doctor of their own choice, and to family members were inadequate. The Committee also expressed its concern about instances of mob violence against religious minorities, and the failure of the police to intervene and take appropriate action to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The Committee welcomed legislative reform aimed at safeguarding human rights, and the transfer of the prison service from the control of the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Justice.


In a meeting in Yalta in March, the Georgian and Abkhaz sides formally restated their commitment to creating the necessary conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced people to the disputed region. However, the region, in particular the southern district of Gali, remained volatile, and high levels of crime and lawlessness added to the insecurity of the local population.

In October there was a serious outbreak of hostilities between armed groups, said to include Georgian and Chechen fighters, and the Abkhaz forces. Reports of casualties were difficult to verify, although estimates were that about 60 members of armed groups, 16 Abkhaz troops, and at least 21 civilians had been killed. These casualties were in addition to those killed when a UN helicopter was shot down over the Gulripsh district of Abkhazia. There were nine unarmed people on board.

Human rights defenders

According to reports, Abri Dzhergeniya, then Abkhaz Procurator General, stated on 15 May that a Georgian citizen currently living in Bryansk in the Russian Federation had been identified as the main suspect in the murder of Zurab Achba, a legal assistant to the UN Human Rights Office in Abkhazia who was shot dead in Sukhumi in August 2000. Abri Dzhergeniya stated that the suspect was wanted by the Russian police and that two other suspects had been detained in connection with Zurab Achba's death but had not been charged with murder. There were allegations that some official structures were implicated in the killing of Zurab Achba.

Death penalty

No death sentences were reported to have been passed during the year. At least 15 death sentences were believed to have been passed since Abkhazia declared independence in 1992. The de facto moratorium on executions remained in force.

Prisoners of conscience

One person, Elgudzha Tsulaya, was known to be in prison during the year for refusing on religious grounds to perform compulsory military service. He had been sentenced to four years' imprisonment in October 2000 by the Military Court for desertion, reportedly in connection with steps he had taken earlier in the year to avoid forcible conscription, on the grounds that military service was incompatible with his religious beliefs. No alternative civilian service was available in 2001.

AI country reports/visits

  • Concerns in Europe, January-June 2001: Georgia (AI Index: EUR 01/003/2001)

In March, an AI delegate visited Tbilisi and met state officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations. In April, an AI delegate visited Abkhazia and met representatives of the de facto authorities.

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