Luka Siradze’s Suicide Rocks Georgian Society & the Juvenile Justice System

Luka Siradze, 15, who tried to commit suicide after alleged pressure from police officers, died on December 17 in Iashvili Children’s Central Hospital.

The family of the minor claims the juvenile was threatened at the Tbilisi police station in the presence of his mother and forced to confess to the crime of vandalizing his former school, Green School, by spray-painting “F**k this life” on a wall there.

Georgia’s Interior Ministry confirmed that the minor spent only “3-4 minutes alone” with one of the police officers before the beginning of the interrogation as the minor “had a conflict with his mother and the police officer wanted to defuse the situation.” However, the Ministry excluded any psychological pressure from the officer, saying that the boy was interrogated twice “in the presence of his mother” at the police station on December 10-11.

Following the death of the minor, police investigator Mariana Choloiani was detained for placing psychological pressure on Luka which allegedly led to him taking a jump off the ninth floor of his apartment building just hours later. The authority of two other police officers has also been suspended.

Londa Toloraia, the First State Inspector of Georgia, said the case is being investigated and a total of 70 witnesses have been questioned since December 12.

Meanwhile, demonstrations are underway in Georgia's capital. The participants of the protests are demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri, insisting that he is responsible for the death of the 15-year-old boy,

The demonstrators claim that Luka Siradze is “yet another victim of the ugly and unfair system” and that it is the fault of society that he died. School students are also involved in the rallies and protesters have been spray-painting “F**k the Law!” and “F**k this Life!” on walls and roads at various locations throughout the capital.

Public Defender Nino Lomjaria sent her condolences to the minor’s family, calling the incident “a tragedy for society because we again failed to protect a child’s life.” Lomjaria said her office is studying the case from the very beginning and will continue to monitor the ongoing investigation.

Non-governmental Organization Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) is protecting the interests of the minor’s family. GYLA claims that the juvenile attempted suicide because of alleged psychological abuse committed by the staff of the investigative body.

“The juvenile was forced to confess to the crime by means of psychological abuse from the staff members of the investigative body who were investigating the crime. They threatened him and his brother and said that he would have to spend a long time in prison. The psychological abuse and intimidation from the police officers were so intense and real that the juvenile fell ill during the interview and requested medical attention. This assistance was not provided. The juvenile's mother was also present throughout the interrogation process, although he was left alone with the police officers at some point,” the NGO explains.

On December 12, the GYLA applied to the Investigative Service of the State Inspectorate with the purpose of launching an investigation. The investigation was launched on the basis of Article 335 of the Criminal Code, which means coercion of a person by deception, blackmail or other unlawful act to get a testimony.

The NGO called on the Investigation Service of the State Inspectorate to timely conduct an effective, objective and impartial investigation on the fact of unlawful conduct towards a juvenile at the police station and to the Prosecutor's Office of Georgia to subject the case of incitement to suicide for investigation to the State Inspectorate Service.

GYLA lawyer Revaz Ajaridze noted that the detention of investigator Mariana Choloiani is not enough, adding there are more people involved in the intimidation of the deceased juvenile. Ajaridze claims there were around 3-4 policemen during the questioning of the minor and it is for the investigation to reveal all the perpetrators.

“It is necessary to determine who was communicating directly with the minor via texts and threats. The mere fact that Choloiani is accused at this stage is not enough in our view. Hopefully, other people will soon be identified,” the lawyer said, adding that the investigation is adequately underway at this stage.

The director of the Green School, Kakha Davituri, who was the one to call the Patrol Police after discovering the text written on the wall, said he would not have called the police if he had known about the possible consequences of doing so.

The school administration also released a statement on the case.

“We feel extremely sad about the death of Luka Siradze. It is impossible to find words to express the gravity of this difficult time. We are sending our condolences to family, friends, and relatives of the minor...We are mourning his death.” It also says that studies will be suspended at the school until Monday.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili also responded to the case. According to her, the death of the 15-year-old boy is a grave tragedy for the whole state.

“I share the family's pain and wish them strength at this very difficult time,” Zurabishvili wrote.

UNICEF Georgia (United Nations Children's Emergency Fund) was quick to call on the authorities to ensure children’s rights in the juvenile justice system more competently.

“The Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges the state to ensure that no child be com-pelled to give testimony or to confess guilt and be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhu-mane or degrading treatment or punishment,” reads the UNICEF statement.

“The Juvenile Justice Code of Georgia establishes a child-friendly approach and demands all professionals to deal with individual children’s cases with special diligence. Inasmuch as the police are the first contact with the justice system, it is vital that they have the right motivation, knowledge and skills to be sensitive towards children’s issues.”

UNICEF put forward the following recommendations for the betterment of the Georgian juve-nile justice system:

• Create special units or designate specialized professionals who will work only on children’s cases in the police system and in all agencies involved in the administration of juvenile justice

• Specialized professionals should be selected carefully and monitored regularly

• Familiarize and sensitize mid-level management on child rights

• Provide all child witnesses of crime with legal assistance at any stage of contact with the justice system.

UNICEF noted that it will continue to assist the Georgian government in carrying out reforms designed to implement a child-friendly juvenile justice system pursuant to international standards.

Georgian Prime Minister, Giorgi Gakharia, vowed that all perpetrators will be severely punished. He conveyed his “deep sorrow” over the death of Siradze, saying there must be no question marks over the issue or the transparency of the investigation.

Gakharia specified that “important steps” have been taken with regards the juvenile justice system, and major developments have been made in the education and healthcare fields.

“However, we still face accumulated problems and challenges. We all, Georgian society, stand responsible before Luka and his family to reduce the systemic problems, which have accumulated over the years, to a minimum,” the PM said.

The PM then ordered the Interior Ministry to take all actions to ensure the investigative environment be suited to minors. He also said that the Georgian government will take full responsibility to carry out the reforms in a timely manner, transparently and with the backing of international associates.

He stated that using this tragedy for political purposes is “absolutely unacceptable.”

Unverified information released on social media reads that Luka’s father is dead and he has a mother and a brother. As the tuition fee is high in Green School, his mother allegedly could not afford to continue Luka’s education there and moved him to a state school, which came as a shock to the minor as he had had a lot of friends and a girlfriend in his old school. This was said to be the reason why he allegedly broke into the school building and left there spray-painted drawings and the words “F**k this life!”

By Tea Mariamidze

Image source: Accent News

19 December 2019 17:34