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23 Mar, 2007 02:17

Georgian boy gets 7 years jail for knife-fight

Georgian boy gets 7 years jail for knife-fight

There's been outrage in Georgia after a 14-year-boy was sentenced to seven years in jail for an attempted murder. Students and activists are demanding he's released from prison and given a non-custodial sentence, because of his age.

Giorgi Zerekidze attacked a 23-year-old man with a knife in a local shop after an argument. The victim was slightly injured. When Giorgi's father found out he took the boy to the police. He hoped giving himself up would help Giorgi, but the teenager was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, later reduced to 7 on appeal.

The government insists under the country's laws, teenagers from the age of 14 can be held to account for their actions. The country is trying to cut down on juvenile crime by taking a low or zero tolerance approach.

There has been widespread criticism about the harshness of Giorgi's sentence, but prosecutors stand by the decision.

“He offered to co-operate with the investigation and with the court in order to reduce his sentence. He got the least punishment available for what he has done,” says Giorgi Gviniashvili, Tbilisi prosecutor.

That explanation hasn't stopped large groups of protesters demanding Giorgi's immediate release, and school children across have joined them. They say Giorgi is just a teenager in need of guidance not harsh punishment. Foreign NGOs and lawyers groups have joined the criticism even calling in to question the legality of throwing the full force of the law at someone still in their early teens.

“It is said in the International law on juvenile crimes that they are victims not criminals so they must be treated as such and helped to reform in order to return to the society as normal citizens. Their punishment must not be harsh,” believes Kakha Khvistani, a lawyer.

The government has countered the criticism claiming the decision has now been turned in to a political show and has moved to condemn the actions of those who have taken to the streets.

Giorgi's family say they will bring the case will to the European Court of Human Rights if the next appeal fails.