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Georgia’s Brooming Democracy: Prison Abuse Caught on Cam

Published: September 24, 2012 | 8:59 am
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Georgia, this small country in the mountainous Caucasus region, has suffered a lot from bloody enemies from the very beginning of its challenging history and still made it to the 21st century. We are the nation that survived centuries of wars, betrayal, but what we see today is something that humiliated each and every citizen of our country. Gldani N8 Prison abuse films aired on TV shocked the entire nation. Prisoners are shown being badly beaten, sexually assaulted with a broom. We have prisoners tortured in the country that we pride with, the country that we regard the part of the civilized society. Prison abuse caught on cam is not some movie scenario, it’s a live documentary shot beyond the bars.

Protesting against the violence, facebook profile picture of Georgians (regardless their political views) went black. Nationwide rallies are under way.

Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II called on the nation to remain calm and bring the situation to October 1 parliamentary elections peacefully.


Georgian government responds: Resignations and Appointments

Two ministers have resigned. President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili has introduced Giorgi Tughushi as the new Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance on September 20. Tughushi, Former Public Defender, has assumed the vacant position of Khatuna Kalmakhelidze who resigned on September 19 following the scandal of the prisoner torture and abuse in the Gldani N8 prison. The video footage depicting the series of the crimes in the prison, prisoners’ sexual abuse and torture were released by televisions on September 19.

“Tughushi was the most vocal criticizer of the penitentiary system and he will be the one to improve the system. He is an experienced expert of international qualification, has got serious education abroad. It is very important for us that he will be the minister of this system,” President Saakashvili said and added that the new minister would have full freedom in his work and he would only subordinate law and society.

“The main reason why I agreed to assume the office of the Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance of Georgia is that I’ll be given an opportunity to make radical changes in this structure. It’s a real big challenge for me. All this time I’ve been writing reports about prison abuse and now it’s my job to make it happen in practice.

Georgia’s Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia has also stepped down amid uproar over the above-mentioned video footage that showed prison guards abusing inmates. Akhalaia said he felt “moral and political responsibility” that the practice of torture had not been eradicated from Georgia’s jails.

As for punishment, several prison officers identified in the video have been charged.

Saakashvili replaced Akhalaia with his First Deputy, Eka Zghuladze as an acting minister, the most senior woman in the Interior Ministry. But President Saakashvili has not named anyone for the post. According to the constitution a confidence vote is required in the Parliament if one-third of 21-member cabinet is “renewed” since the last such vote. Since early July, when the new cabinet led by PM Vano Merabishvili was confirmed by the Parliament, there have been seven changes in the government; the most recent one was resignation of Akhalaia, but, this change does not fit the category of “renewal” as no new candidacy for interior minister has been proposed by the President yet.

According to the constitution, after the October elections, the government and PM will have to resign and President will present new cabinet or re-submit the existing one the newly elected Parliament for confidence vote.

A few years ago Bacho’s elder brother Data Akhalaia was formally fired from the post of head of the feared domestice intelligence service, the Constitutional Security Department, or “Kudi”. A few years later he was officially appointed as head of the “Kudi”.

Roland Akhalaia, father of Bacho Akhalaia, who for years used to be Chief Prosecutor and governor of the Samegrelo reigion in western Georgia, and is now a majoritarian candidate for the ruling National Movement party in the town of Zugdidi continues his election campaign.

Government on Tamazashvili-Bedukadze Charge

Georgian President opened the grand building of Public Service Hall in Tbilisi on September 21. In his speech Saakashvili again admitted government’s mistakes in respect to penitentiary system, asking people who they believed more, the two newly appointed ministers or the opposition favorite Tamazashvili.

The videos were sold for a “significant” amount of money through inmates Tamaz Tamazashvili and Tamaz Elizbarashvili, according to the statement of the Prosecutor’s Office. Tamazashvili’s son-in-law, Irakli Garibashvili, heads the foundation of opposition leader, Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili ((#153 on Forbes list of billionaires with net worth $6.4 B as of March, 2012), whose Channel 9 was one of two TV stations to run the prison footage.

Channel 9 TV reported that video footage was obtained by a former guard of the prison number 8, Vladimer Bedukadze, who is now in Brussels seeking political asylum. Bedukadze, whom the Interior Ministry said was wanted in connection for inhuman treatment of inmates, told Channel 9 via Skype that the video footage released by the Interior Ministry was staged and suggested that the authorities were trying to build false narrative. He also claimed that Bacho Akhalaia, the interior minister who was prison system chief in 2005-2008, was informally still in charge of the penitentiary system.

In Brussels is Irma Inashvili as well, Georgian journalist and a head of media union Obiectivi who announced that she was the one to who leaked the prison abuse video. According to Inashvili the total length of the film material that she received in May lasts an hour and a half.

Tamazashvili, a former police chief in the Kakheti region, was arrested few days after Ivanishvili announced about going into politics in October, 2011; he was charged with illegal possession of firearms and sentenced to three and a half years of prison term. Ivanishvili has said for multiple times that Tamazashvili was “a political prisoner”; meanwhile the ruling party, citing that Tamazashvili held high ranking police post in pre-Rose Revolution period, is continuously targeting Ivanishvili for his links with former “corrupt” official; Tamazashvili even features in one of the negative TV ads against Ivanishvili.

Foreign Reaction

In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was “appalled by the shocking footage of abuses committed against inmates”.

“The United Nations is dismayed by the recently disseminated television footage of human rights violations in the penitentiary system of Georgia,” says UNDP.

“Georgia’s upcoming election will be a critical moment in the country’s development of democratic governance. An energized opposition coalition has posed the first serious challenge in years to the ruling party.  The opposition has accused the government of harassment and skewing the playing field, while the government has denied these allegations and charged opposition with violating campaign laws. The atmosphere of the campaign and contending claims has been unusually heated, with both sides employing lobbyists to make their case in foreign capitals, especially Washington,” reports t e Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following hearing.

October 1.

This is the fate-date for Georgian politicians fighting to win in the parliamentary elections. Everyone has their own truth and several more days left for running an election campaign. Eventually, it’s up to people to decide which truth to believe. Again, we say no torture!

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” Aristotle







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