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Georgia under fire over harsh drug policies

Thousands of Georgians rallied in the capital Tbilisi in May to protest allegedly heavy-handed police raids in two popular nightclubs and the government's harsh drug policy
Thousands of Georgians rallied in the capital Tbilisi in May to protest allegedly heavy-handed police raids in two popular nightclubs and the government's harsh drug policy AFP
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Tbilisi (AFP)

Georgia's overly punitive drug laws cause severe and unjustifiable harm, Human Rights Watch said Monday, calling on the government to decriminalise personal use and possession of drugs.

"Drug prosecutions for consumption and possession often lead to long prison sentences and prohibitive fines against people who have not harmed others, but who acquired small amounts of drugs for personal, recreational use," the group said in a report.

It added that Georgian law fails to define what amounts to a small drug quantity and that even possessing traces of narcotics -- such as residue in a syringe -- can lead to a minimum of five years' imprisonment.

Possession of more than one gram is considered a "particularly large amount" and could result in life imprisonment, said the report entitled "Harsh Punishment: The Human Toll of Georgia's Abusive Laws."

The organisation denounced the "nearly 100-percent" conviction rate for drug offences.

"Locking people up for no more than using drugs causes tremendous harm and does nothing to help those who need and want treatment," said Giorgi Gogia, HRW's regional director for Europe and Central Asia.

The tiny Black Sea nation's government has been under constant pressure from rights activists to relax its hardline stance since it tightened anti-drug legislation in 2006.

In May, thousands rallied for several days in the capital Tbilisi to protest against allegedly heavy-handed police raids in two popular nightclubs. Officers said they had arrested eight suspected drug dealers.

The government has been partially liberalising drug laws since 2012, reducing penalties for drug possession and consumption. It also adopted a National Strategy and Action Plan to fight drug addiction.

Last month, the Georgian Constitutional Court abolished fines for using marijuana but stipulated that growing and selling the drug would remain an offence.

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