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On 16 August 2016, after the end of the session of the Government of Georgia, the Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia, Sozar Subari, answered a question about the fact of Demur Sturua’s suicide and stated that criminal policy in regard to drug use has already been liberalised in Georgia.

The Minister stated: "Decriminalisation or liberalisation of criminal prosecution policy in regard to drug use is an accomplished fact even though it is not recognised. During my tenure as Public Defender, I saw plenty of people who were arrested for possessing a small quantity of drugs and they were sentenced to 15, 19 or 25 years as drug users. This policy was absolutely reversed and it became very liberal as a law and even more liberal in practice."

FactCheck

took interest in the accuracy of the statement.

As we did not have a video or audio recording of the aforementioned statement, FactCheck contacted the Public Relations Service of the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees to this end. In order to verify the information, FactCheck asked the Service whether or not they confirmed that the statement which was published on the websites of Ipress.ge and Netgazeti indeed belonged to Sozar Subari. Representatives of the Ministry’s Public Relations Service responded that the Minister had not made such a statement. Later, however, Netgazeti gave FactCheck

the recording which proves that Sozar Subari did in fact make the statement.

In order to verify the content of the statement, FactCheck

contacted the White Noise Movement and the Georgian Harm Reduction Network (GHRN), both of which hold membership of the National Platform for Drug Policy.

White Noise Movement representative, Paata Sabelashvili, clarified that there have been insignificant changes in the field of legislation since 2012 which were done to meet the requirements envisaged by the Visa Liberalisation Acton Plan (VLAP).

Mr Sabelashvili stated: "Pursuant to the recommendations of the EU monitoring group, the purchase/storage of drugs for personal use and the purchase/storage of drugs for sale had to be distinctly separate and those disproportionally high sentences, which were higher than sentences for murder or for rape, had to be decreased. These changes were enacted although for the majority of drugs, it still has not been defined what constitutes a ‘small quantity.’ Of 207 drug substances, the margin for personal use has not been determined for 147 of them. This means that if you have more than one gram of heroin and do not intend to sell it, the punishment is still so severe that it does not matter whether or not you wanted it for personal use and, in fact, you are prosecuted as a drug seller."

According to the recommendation of the EU monitoring group, urine testing has to become the subject of the court’s control in Georgia. This is very important in the visa liberalisation process because a drug user who is prosecuted by his own state can easily request and be granted asylum once he is on the territory of the EU.

Before 1 October 2015, every policeman was authorised to take any citizen to the Drug Forensic Bureau upon the basis of reasonable suspicion and, later, upon the basis of justifiable assumption (that the citizen was under drug intoxication).

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Hundreds of thousands of our citizens have undergone this kind of testing. This is a degrading and indecent practice," Paata Sabelashvili said.

On 1 October 2015, a new decree of the Minister of Internal Affairs went into force. According to this decree, forced urine testing is allowed only in the case of an individual committing a crime at that same moment, if he does not obey the police or tries to hide or if the individual, according to police information, is in possession of operative information.

Paata Sabelashvili explained further: "The Ministry of Internal Affairs has consulted civil society representatives and we were categorically against this new decree because operative information gives enormously powerful leverage to the policemen. However, the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not take our arguments into account."

A representative of the White Noise Movement Stated that the attitude toward drug policy was not changed and the state only formally took the recommendations of the EU monitoring group into account.

Paata Sabelashvili gave us the document, Overview of Drug Policy and Practice, produced by the White Noise Movement which illustrates the yearly dynamics of the trends of arrests, sentences and drug tests based on Articles 260 and 273 of the Criminal Code of Georgia. As illustrated by the data, 20,000 individuals were taken for drug tests in 2012 whilst this number rose to 60,000 in 2013 and dropped to 50,000 in 2015. Of important note is that the results of the drug tests are negative in the majority of the cases.

FactCheck

interviewed the Executive Director of the Georgian Harm Reduction Network, Kakha Kvashilava, about changes in drug policy which have been enacted since 2012. Mr Kvashilava disagrees with the idea that drug policy is liberal nowadays.

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The amendments were really enacted in Article 260 of the Criminal Code of Georgia. The purchase/storage of drugs for personal use and the purchase/storage of drugs for selling were crossed off. The length of the sentences was also corrected; that is, they were decreased. A lot of shortcomings, however, still remain in the legislation. The amount of a ‘small quantity’ has not been defined for the majority of drugs. If a person is detained with any amount of drugs, the terms for imprisonment are the same and they are often irrelevant. There were no other significant legislative changes," Mr Kvashilava said.

The Georgian Harm Reduction Network gave FactCheck

statistical data which it received from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The statistics show registered and solved drug-related crimes throughout the years.

Article 260 of the Criminal Code of Georgia was also amended upon the basis of Decision No. 3/1/708,709,710 of the preliminary session of the Plenum of the Constitutional Court of Georgia dated 26 February 2016: "The normative content which envisages the possibility of imprisonment for illegal purchase/storage (for personal use) of a drug, given in the 92nd

horizontal table of Annex No.2 of the Law of Georgia on Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Precursors and Narcological Assistance, which is dry marijuana, shall be null and void."

Further: "The Constitutional Court of Georgia rules that it is not justified to imprison an individual for an act which could be harmful only for his health and does not harm others. Therefore, the Constitutional Court of Georgia ruled that criminal prosecution for the purchase/storage of dry marijuana for personal use, which might lead to the imprisonment of an individual, is a disproportional measure."

Several legislative changes cannot change the big picture. The Public Defender of Georgia highlights the repressive drug policy in Georgia.

Sozar Subari mentioned "practice" in his statement. In this regard, the fact of Demur Sturua’s suicide on 12 August 2016 is important. The National Platform for Drug Policy commented upon this fact with a statement as follows: "The punishing drug policy in Georgia is irrational and inhumane. It goes against human rights and decency. Georgia’s ‘murderous’ drug policy has no analogue in the civilised world. There is no evidence about any kind of positive results received from such a policy. There is only the opposite experience and the facts that it results in the criminalisation, suffering and deaths of people and shows our society as having an unfair and indecent public policy." The Platform has 39 members including the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), European Students for Liberty, Georgian Red Cross Society, White Noise Movement and the Georgian Harm Reduction Network, among others.

The Public Defender of Georgia also commented upon the fact of Demur Sturua’s suicide: "The fact gave rise to the reasonable assumption that police activities against drug crimes are repressive, violate human rights, infringe upon privacy and are accepted as a normal practice.

In order to detect drug crimes, it is important study the methods employed by the police and take preventive measures in this regard to decrease the risks of coercion, abuse, illegal detention, threats of torture and any other possible criminal acts.

The Public Defender of Georgia has called upon the respective organs to reject the existing practice of drug policy and make drug policy more humane."

Conclusion FactCheck

determined that legislative changes (amending Article 260 of the Criminal Code of Georgia and changing the rules of taking an individual for urine testing) enacted from 2012 do not give sufficient ground to speak about liberalisation (revoking restrictions, softening) or decriminalisation (revoking the status of a "crime" for a certain action after which that action is no longer criminally punishable) of drug policy at a legislative level. The illegal manufacturing, production, purchase, storage, transportation, transfer or sale of drugs, their analogues, precursors or new psychoactive substances still constitute a criminal act.

Additionally, it is important that the legislative changes discussed above in this article were adopted upon the basis of a decision of the Constitutional Court of Georgia and EU recommendations issued within the framework of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.

According to the data presented by organisations focused upon drug policy, it has been determined that the number of people detained for a drug crime or taken for urine testing did not decrease. Moreover, the cases of urine testing have increased substantially which is not an indicator of a liberal drug policy. The position of the Public Defender of Georgia, who says that the drug policy in the country is repressive and that he has specific facts to prove it, is also important.

Therefore, FactCheck concludes that Sozar Subari’s statement is FALSE.