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Female prisoners to resume hunger strike

By Shorena Labadze
Wednesday, June 25
Female inmates in a Tbilisi jail who ended a hunger strike on June 22 after intervention from Georgia’s spiritual leader say they will resume protest this week if their demands are not met.

The hunger strikers say they want reviews of their cases.

The women stopped the demonstration after intimidation from fellow inmates doing the bidding of the prison administration, said Nana Kakabadze, head of the NGO Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, earlier this week.

But one female inmate on hunger strike, whose name is being withheld because she broke prison regulations in speaking to this newspaper, said that wasn’t the case.

“We can’t speak of pressure from the [prison] administration. We asked them for a room to start our hunger strike and they gave it to us,” the inmate told the Messenger in a telephone conversation yesterday.

The hunger striker said they stopped the protest at the Patriarch’s behest. They want the president’s administration to look into their cases, she said.

“The representative sent by the Patriarch handed us a letter asking to stop the strike for ten days. We obeyed it, and are waiting for the results.”

The prisoner said the Patriarch’s representative told them letters about their demonstration were sent to the president and the Justice Ministry.

“We are waiting until June 28 for things to happen, and then we’ll restart the hunger strike,” she said.

About 30–35 women who are “more active” are ready to join the June 28 hunger strike, according to the inmate.

Patriarchate spokesman Davit Sharashenidze earlier confirmed they sent a letter to the Justice Ministry, but was not available to confirm whether they also addressed the president.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry said their ministry never received a letter from the Patriarchate.

“We haven’t received any letter like that. Why should the Patriarchate send us a letter when we’re not responsible for the issue?” said the spokeswoman last week.

Despite opposition politicians meeting with foreign dignitaries and international organizations to publicize the demonstration, the case has received little attention from local NGOs: only one of the half dozen contacted said they were reviewing the situation. Local representatives for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the OSCE both said they have not been involved.

The protest began July 7 with scores of female prisoners demanding case reviews and better living conditions. Some claim to be political prisoners jailed after speaking out against government moves to confiscate their property.

Prison department spokeswoman Salome Makharadze said complaints of poor conditions “make no sense” as the jail meets international standards, and that the prison department has no power to review their cases.