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14 Aug, 2007 13:48

Teenage riot in Tbilisi penal colony

At least 12 teenagers have been taken to hospital after a fight started in a penal colony for minors in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.Their condition is said to be stable.

Hours after the violence, over 100 inmates were moved to another penal colony in the city of Rustavi at the request of their parents.

The Georgian Ministry of Justice reports it has identified several prisoners who orchestrated the disturbances.

The trouble started around eight on Monday night, when a fight broke out among the children at the facility, which houses young offenders under the age of sixteen.

The reasons for the fight remain unknown, but it soon spiraled out of control. Knives were used and windows were broken, prompting the colony's guards to call special police units to the scene.

«12 young offenders have been taken to different hospitals. Some others were injured but not seriously, they received first aid at the scene,» said Giga Giorgadze, Deputy Human Rights Ombudsman.

Initial TV reports led to the site being flooded by anxious relatives. Tensions quickly frayed, as the police refused to allow parents close to the building, and no information was made available as to the identities of the injured children. Scuffles ensued, and at least one woman collapsed.

“I know absolutely nothing about what is going on! There is absolutely no information. Don't you think I have a right to know whether my 15 year old son is alive?! Someone has to tell me what's going on,” cried Nana M., mother of young offender.

The presence of special police units only added to parent's anxieties. Last March a riot in an adult prison left seven dead after it was suppressed by special interior ministry forces.

“Bearing in mind how the authorities suppressed the riot last March, we can rule nothing out. Of course, I hope nothing like that will happen here,” commented Lasha Chkhartishvili, Equality Institute NGO, Tbilisi, Georgia.

Youth crime is a contentious issue in Georgia, with recent months seeing large increases in teenage violence. However, human rights activists say that the conditions in the country's prisons are inhumane, and the juvenile justice system fails to provide adequate conditions for young offenders. After this incident such criticism is likely to intensify.

Whatever the reasons for the violence, the injury of twelve children in what appears to be a mass brawl will only raise further questions about Georgia's already troubled criminal justice system.