EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Press release issued by the Registrar
RAMISHVILI AND KOKHREIDZE v. GEORGIA
The European Court of Human Rights has today notified in writing its Chamber judgment1 in the case of Ramishvili and Kokhreidze v. Georgia (application no. 1704/06).
The Court held unanimously that there had been:
a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights on account of the inhuman and degrading conditions in which the first applicant was detained in the punishment cell at Tbilisi No. 5 Prison;
a violation of Article 3 of the Convention on account of the second applicant’s detention in an overcrowded cell at Tbilisi No. 5 Prison;
a violation of Article 3 on account of the applicants’ placement in a metal cage during a court hearing;
a violation of Article 5 § 1 (c) (right to liberty and security) on account of the absence of a valid court order authorising the applicants’ detention between 27 November 2005 and 13 January 2006;
no violation of Article 5 § 4 on account of the applicants’ inability to have prompt access to a video recording used as evidence against them; and,
a violation of Article 5 § 4 on account of the manner in which the judicial review of 2 September 2005 was conducted and the absence of a speedy reply to the applicants’ complaint of 6 December 2005.
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the Court awarded the applicants 6,000 euros (EUR), each, in respect of non-pecuniary damage, and EUR 14,694, jointly, for costs and expenses. (The judgment is available only in English.)
1. Principal facts
The applicants, Shalva Ramishvili and Davit Kokhreidze, are Georgian nationals who were born in 1971 and 1961 respectively and live in Tbilisi (Georgia). They were co-founders of and shareholders in a private media company (“the media company”) which owned “TV 202”, a television broadcasting channel in Tbilisi. In April 2005 the media company undertook to air a documentary film which had negative implications for a parliamentarian from the presidential political party.
The parliamentarian in question repeatedly phoned Mr Ramishvili asking him to block the transmission of the film. Eventually the two met and agreed that, in exchange for approximately 100,000 United States Dollars (USD) (the equivalent of EUR 80,000), Mr Ramishvili would not air the film. Following this meeting, and a complaint by the parliamentarian to the Minister of the Interior that Mr Ramishvili was blackmailing him, the Ministry brought criminal proceedings against the applicant on suspicion of extortion.
On 27 August 2005, following a meeting with the parliamentarian during which the transfer of money had taken place, the two applicants were arrested and searched. The parliamentarian, at the authorisation of the Prosecutor General’s Office, had secretly videoed the conversation and the handing over of the money. USD 30,000 (the equivalent of approximately 23,000 EUR), marked with special chemicals and pencils by the Prosecution authorities, and the car in which the money was found, were seized. Both applicants were charged with conspiracy to commit extortion.
On 29 August 2005 the applicants were detained with a court order for three months, but, without further court authorisation, remained in detention for longer.
On 11 January 2006 Mr Ramishvili was transferred from his ordinary cell to a punishment cell as a disciplinary measure for having used a mobile telephone. He shared the punishment cell, measuring 5.65 square metres and intended for solitary confinement, with one other person. Complaining to the authorities about the conditions of his detention in that cell, he explained that, infested with cockroaches and rats, it had no window or ventilation and was extremely damp, as tap water ran non-stop and noisily 24 hours a day. Furthermore, a narrow pipe in the corner served as a toilet, which was not separated from the rest of the cell, and a stench hung in the air permanently. The only bed, infested with vermin, was not wide enough to accommodate two persons. On 3 July 2006 the Prosecutor General’s Office informed the applicant that it had opened a criminal case into his complaints on 18 May 2006 but had closed it on 26 June 2006, as there had been no evidence of a crime.
On 19 January 2006 Mr Kokhreidze was placed in a cell with 12 beds, where 29 to 35 prisoners were kept at different points in time. The inmates were therefore obliged to take turns to sleep.
On 6 September 2005 the video recording of 27 August 2005 was incorporated as evidence into the applicants’ criminal case file. However, the applicants only saw the video recording for the first time on 14 and 16 November 2005.
The applicants appealed against their detention on remand and a hearing was held at the Tbilisi Regional Court on 2 September 2005. The court room was overcrowded. The applicants were placed in a metal cage at one end of the room. The general noise level in the room, including bitter arguing and swearing, made it difficult to hear or understand what the party who spoke was saying. When the lawyers spoke they were dazzled by journalists’ camera flashes and halogen lights. During the lawyers’ speech there were incessant interruptions by the judge and the public, and relentless banging on the entrance door from the outside, as well as the sound of nearby construction work. Now and then mobile telephones rang and conversations were held. Communication between the defence, the prosecution and the judge, constantly hampered by journalists’ interruptions, was only made possible by repeatedly requesting other people to move aside or sit down on the floor. The temperature in the court room was high; people were sweating. What could be presumed undercover agents, and some court personnel, constantly entered and left the judge’s deliberation room. In order to see what was happening, respond to the judge or be heard, the applicants had to stand on the chair in the metal cage, hanging on to the metal side bars, and shout. On the other hand, the prosecutor and the judge were so close to each other that they could converse easily. At times, when the prosecutor found it difficult to respond to the applicants’ questions, the judge either replied in his stead or rephrased their questions in a leading manner.
On 6 December 2005 the applicants filed a complaint with Tbilisi City Court, demanding their immediate release, since no judicial decision had authorised their detention since 27 November 2005. No immediate response followed.
2. Procedure and composition of the Court
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 9 January 2006 and declared partly admissible on 26 June 2007.
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:
Tulkens (Belgium), President,
Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portugal),
Vladimiro Zagrebelsky (Italy),
Danutė Jočienė (Lithuania),
Dragoljub Popović (Serbia),
András Sajó (Hungary),
Nona Tsotsoria (Georgia), judges,
and also Sally Dollé, Section Registrar.
3. Summary of the judgment1
The applicants alleged that their treatment in the courthouse during their remand hearings had been degrading within the meaning of Article 3. Mr Ramishvili further challenged the conditions of his confinement in a punishment cell, and Mr Kokhreidze complained of overcrowding in his ordinary cell. Under Article 5 §§ 1 (c) and 4, the applicants complained that their pre-trial detention between 27 November 2005 and 13 January 2006 had been unlawful and challenged the fairness and speediness of the judicial proceedings to review their detention.
Decision of the Court
Mr Ramishvili’s confinement in the punishment cell
The Court noted that Mr Ramishvili had been obliged to share a 120 cm bed with a stranger and could not even relieve himself in the so-called toilet without being observed by the latter. The conditions of his detention in the punishment cell had therefore obviously not allowed for even the most basic privacy. The Court also found that the sanitary conditions had been unacceptable and concluded that the applicant was held in inhuman and degrading conditions, in violation of Article 3.
The conditions of Mr Kokhreidze’s detention
The Court stated that the overcrowding, described by Mr Kokhreidze and not contested by the Government, had in itself been a breach of Article 3.
The applicants’ treatment in the courthouse
The Court noted that, despite the applicants’ status as public figures, without prior conviction, and the fact that they had behaved in an orderly manner during the criminal proceedings, the Government had failed to provide any justification for their having been placed in a caged dock on 2 September 2005 or for the use of “special forces” in the courthouse. Nothing in the case file suggested that there had been the slightest risk that the applicants, well-known and apparently quite harmless, might have absconded or resorted to violence during their transfer to the courthouse or at the hearing. The Court therefore concluded that the imposition of such stringent and humiliating measures upon the applicants could not be justified and that there had accordingly been a violation of Article 3.
Article 5 § 1 (c)
The Court observed that between 27 November 2005 and 13 January 2006, that is to say for one month and 17 days, there had been no judicial decision authorising the applicants’ detention, in violation of Article 5 § 1 (c).
Article 5 § 4
Concerning lack of access to the video recording of 27 August 2005 during the initial review of the applicants’ pre-trial detention
The Court noted that even without a copy of the video recording of 27 August 2005, the criminal case file had contained many other relevant pieces of evidence. The Court therefore concluded that, even without access to the video, the domestic courts could review the lawfulness of the applicants’ pre-trial detention. Accordingly, there had been no violation of Article 5 § 4 in connection with the above-mentioned complaint.
Concerning the manner in which the hearing of 2 September 2005 had been conducted
The Court first deplored the manner in which the hearing of 2 September 2005 had been held. It considered that an oral hearing in such chaotic conditions could hardly be conducive to a sober judicial examination. The Court could not help but observe that the judge had obviously been aiding the prosecutor during the hearing. As to the requisite “independence”, it had undoubtedly been tainted by the high number of under-cover government agents and even “special forces” who had been present during the hearing. The Court concluded that the judicial review of 2 September 2005 had lacked the fundamental requisites of a fair hearing, in violation of Article 5 § 4.
Concerning the lack of speediness in the examination of a complaint against detention lodged in December 2005
The Court noted that the competent domestic court had replied 38 days after the applicants had filed a complaint against their detention. As the government had not explained that delay, and nothing suggested that it could have been attributable to the applicants, the Court concluded that the judicial review of 13 January 2006 could not be regarded as a “speedy” reply to their complaint of 6 December 2005, in violation of Article 5 § 4.
The Court’s judgments are accessible on its Internet site (http://www.echr.coe.int).
Piedimonte (telephone: 00 33 (0)3 88 41 42 04)
Tracey Turner-Tretz (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 88 41 35 30)
Paramy Chanthalangsy (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 88 41 28 30)
Kristina Pencheva-Malinowski (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 88 41 35 70)
Céline Menu-Lange (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 90 21 58 77)
The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.
1 Under Article 43 of the Convention, within three months from the date of a Chamber judgment, any party to the case may, in exceptional cases, request that the case be referred to the 17 member Grand Chamber of the Court. In that event, a panel of five judges considers whether the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention or its protocols, or a serious issue of general importance, in which case the Grand Chamber will deliver a final judgment. If no such question or issue arises, the panel will reject the request, at which point the judgment becomes final. Otherwise Chamber judgments become final on the expiry of the three-month period or earlier if the parties declare that they do not intend to make a request to refer.
1 This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.