Thousands of protesters are taking to the streets in several Georgian cities since Tuesday after national TV channels broadcast video evidence of torture and rape in a Tbilisi prison. The minister of execution of sentences has resigned as a result.
Masses of Georgians joined spontaneous rallies in Tbilisi, Batumi, Poti, Gori and other cities after Maestro TV and TV-9 exposed that guards in the Gldan detention facility in the country’s capital beat prisoners and raped them with rubber truncheons.
Shocked by the terror and violence on TV screens, citizens are calling for justice and promise to continue their protests if no action taken.
Hundreds of protesters shut down traffic in central Tbilisi as they marched to the Interior Ministry building.
Protesters demanded the Minister of Execution of Sentences and Corrections Khatuna Kalmakhelidze be fired. She had been fiercely criticized for quite some time already, and on Wednesday morning the minister submitted her resignation.
“Being a minister I tried to make human rights secure, but it seems my efforts were insufficient,” the former minister stated.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was forced to make a special statement on Tuesday night.
“What happened in Gldan Prison is an outrageous act targeting human dignity and rights. Those who organized, implemented and allowed it to happen deserve the strictest punishment and they will spend many years in prison,” Saakashvili promised.
The president also vowed to completely reorganize the penitentiary system in the country. First “it is necessary to suspend current prison workers replacing them with patrol police,” he said.
“It is not a police function, but until prison staff is renewed and new workers hired, police officers will temporarily perform their duties,” Saakashvili was quoted as saying at the meeting with the prime minister, justice minister and prosecutor general.
An investigation was initiated and 15 guards suspected of torture have been detained. These include the director of the Gldan prison, David Chkadua, and guard Datu Akobia, who actually made the video of suspects abusing prisoners. Akobia was arrested trying to cross the Armenian-Georgian border at the Sadahlo checkpoint.
Reports say the suspects claim that the videos were staged by provocateurs paid to discredit the authorities ahead of the elections.
The Prosecutor General of Georgia Murtaz Zodelava has stated at a special media briefing dedicated to the scandalous case that the videos of torture in prison were passed to TV channels by members of the opposition.
He specified that it was Tamaz Tamazishvili, a representative of the Georgian Dream opposition coalition led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the opponent and main political rival for the upcoming presidential election of the ruling President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Ivanishvili has already called the whole case a provocation against him two weeks ahead of the presidential election.
The Ministry of Interior claimed that opposition activist Tamazishvili was the person who “made a proposal to the employees of the detention facility to stage and make video records of inhumane treatment of the suspects in exchange for significant compensation.”
The Ministry of Interior has published certain fragments of the video evidence from Gldan prison on its website with comments that most of the material is not allowed to be played in public.
The video evidence of prison torture was leaked to TV channels by former jailer Vladimir Bedukadze, who is currently on the wanted list. In an interview to TV-9 he claimed that torture of the suspects had been ordered by Minister of the Interior Bacho Akhalaya and that Kalmakhelidze had been aware of acts of torture in various Georgian prisons.