Open Letter to the Government of Georgia and Madam President Salome Zurabishvili
Dear Governing Class of Georgia and dear Madam President,
I hope you will allow me to first write my sincere greetings. I will spare you the J’accuse, but I am going to delve into a sinister and shameful situation for our otherwise beautiful country.
My name is Irakli Kiziria, I was born in Georgia and I am a musician living in Germany for almost two decades. I first heard about Mikhailo two years ago through friends and activists. I listened to his music and met him during an interview with Electronic Beats that happened in 2018. To be able to meet him in prison gave me the chance to exchange with him on different projects. It is not easy to collaborate with someone alienated from “regular” society, with no access to the internet and so on, but it is also very interesting. After almost a year, I am very happy and proud to announce that my label is ready to release our record on June 15th.
I believe music is an expression of freedom and that Mikhailo expresses in his music his longing for it. Maybe if you listen to his music, you will hear the voice of our brothers and sisters in prison. Maybe you will feel and understand that he and many others do not belong there. Maybe you will find the courage to change these laws that hurt so many of our brethren. And maybe you will try to help them see their families and their friends sooner.
My name is Mikhail Todua, I am turning thirty-four this year and I was raised in Tbilisi. Music was always my passion since childhood, which is why I decided to work in this industry. Thirteen years ago I met a girl named Salome in a club, we fell in love and I married her before she gave birth to our daughter who is now nine years old. Sadly for the past six years, I have only talked to my little girl on the phone. She thinks I live very far away in the USA because we did not want to hurt her at such a young age with the truth.
On September 12, 2013, while I was driving back to Tbilisi from holiday, I was randomly stopped and taken into the local police station. After which I was sentenced to nine years for possession of the drug MDMA (for personal use). After two years in jail, I was granted the right to work on music, and the penitentiary administration allowed me to arrange one room and transform it into a music studio. Music is one of the most important things in my life and I could not be without it. I collected various parts of music gear that people sent me. It was not easy, and I had to depend on the kindness of many people to get what I needed. During my time in prison, I have managed to release five records. This is a labor of love that I craft and work on during the 5-hour blocks of time I get five times a week in the studio. I have created music for a play based on 12 Angry Men and for the documentary Facility 16. I also offer music therapy for my fellow inmates.
My name is Salome and I am Mikhailo’s wife. We are preparing his music studio space that will be ready for him after his release. Of course, Mikhailo has changed, but I do not know if the reason is due to his arrest or simply time, because many people change and improve without going to prison. I do think that prison showed him a different side to everything. He uses time as productively as possible there and I believe he is using his abilities to the maximum. What he is doing there no one has done before in Georgia. In September it will be six years after his arrest and I think that this a lot of time for such an offense.
My name is Beso. A few days after I had been released from prison, after serving eight years on drugs charges, three police officers took me to the police station demanding cooperation in order to prosecute Lasha.
My name is Lasha and I was arrested in 2013 for the possession of 0.00009 grams of desomorphine found in a syringe. An amount so small, it cannot be seen with the naked eye.
His name was Demur, he was twenty-two years old and in August 2016 he committed suicide. The young man left a note which spelled the abuse he had been subjected to. A policeman had threatened him into revealing the identities of people suspected of dealing marijuana in the town of Samtredia.
We are just a few names in the thousands that have been impacted by the current Georgian legislation. Our drug policy is one of the strictest in the world. Is it right? We are not just numbers, we are lives that are destroyed, children that are left alone, futures that vanish.
Maybe Mikhailo found solace in prison and became what he was meant to be: a musician, an artist. But what about others who don’t find this welfare, this strength? People with no support that are pressured by a police force who often do not see us as human beings, because the current laws do not encourage them to do so. Please Madam President and our government, think about this youth that is getting stolen away. We have seen and endured these sufferings for too long. We can no longer be prolonging these hardships that are unfair and unjust. What we are asking for is not to decriminalize or legalize the use of drugs, but to correct the political errors which have led to and caused so much pain for the children, women, and men of Georgia.
Georgia has one of the highest incarceration rates with 252.2 inmates per 100 000 inhabitants, in Europe, only Russia has a higher rate. (Source: SPACE 2018 survey)
Georgian law does not establish a threshold for small quantities, which means that possession of even particles automatically qualifies as a large amount, triggering criminal liability and a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence.
Between 2006 and 2008, the first two years of the “zero tolerance” policy, the number of registered drug offenses tripled. It also coincided with a tripling of Georgia’s prison population.