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Rights groups decry police brutality in Georgia

12 April 2017

Several prominent rights groups as well as the Public Defender’s Office have urged the government to investigate cases of police misconduct and police brutality. They have accused the police of regularly exceeding their official power, following a number of recent accusations of misconduct.  

Shota Pakeliani

(Nino Pakeliani/Fb.com)

Shota Pakeliani was arrested in Tbilisi on 23 March 2017. Soon after his arrest, he was brought to hospital in a coma, with a serious head injury. The Ministry of Internal Affairs released a statement claiming that he was injured while attempting to escape and hide from the police.

Pakeliani’s lawyer, Zurab Todua, confirmed that injuries to his client’s arm and knee were sustained while fleeing from police; however he claims that an injury to his head, caused by blunt object, was not. He has also accused the police of planting drugs on Pakeliani.

Todua claimed during a press conference that Pakeliani found the substance in front of his house, and when he went to investigate it, police officers immediately appeared.

‘Pakeliani ran away. He ran about 150–200 meters and fell. He injured his elbow and knee’, the lawyer said, adding that while running Pakeliani took the substance from his pocket and swallowed it, but manage to swallow only half of it.

Soon after his arrest, a video was published showing Pakeliani’s relatives trying to obtain information about his condition from the police station. In the video, the emergency services and his relatives try to find out why Pakeliani is shouting for help, but the relatives are forced by police to leave the building.

Todua later told Liberali that paramedics were called to the police station three times, and that Pakeliani was only taken to hospital after slipping into a coma.

Pakeliani was sentenced  last year to a three-year suspended prison sentence for purchasing and storing drugs.

Irakli Khoperia’s case

(Kviris Palitra)

On 10 April, several rights groups, including the Open Society Georgia Foundation, Transparency International Georgia, and the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, issued a joint statement writing that Pakeliani’s case is the latest in a string of similar accusations against police.

Irakli Khoperia, 20, was arrested on 16 February 2017 on his way back from university. Police stopped him, forced him into a car, and took him to the police station, where they beat him in an attempt to force him to confess to stealing a phone.

‘That was a lie, because I was attending lecture then, and when I tried to explain this they continued to beat me hard’, Khoperia told Kviris Palitra.

Khoperia was released by police after they realised that the person the victim had described was about 160 cm tall, while Khoperia was much taller. The Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the case.

The Public Defender on the violence

(Kviris Palitra)

The Public Defender’s annual report also describes cases of alleged mistreatment at police stations and in the penitentiary system. According to the report, the people responsible for the violence haven’t been identified in any such case. Investigations are not launched in a timely manner and are not investigated under more serious laws, the report claims.

Investigations have been launched in 10 cases after appeals from the Public Defender’s Office in 2016. The investigation has halted in one case, while criminal proceedings weren’t initiated in the others, with no one declared a victim.

Six out of these ten cases were about mistreatment from police, while four were for mistreatment at penitentiary facilities.

According to statistics provided by the Prosecutor’s Office to the Public Defender, investigations were launched in 173 cases for alleged mistreatment by police in 2016; but criminal proceedings were launched in only five of these, with guilty verdicts being returned in only two.

None of these cases were investigated for police brutality or torture, but for the less serious crime of ‘exceeding official powers’.