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Government tries to calm down the public

By Messenger Staff
Friday, September 21
On September 18th TV stations Channel 9, Maestro and Kavkasia showed video footage of guards beating up and torturing inmates at Gldani Prison in Tbilisi. Some alarming footage of torture in Georgian prisons has been shown before but few outside the human-rights sphere paid attention. The Public Defender – Ombudsman’s office has also mentioned its suspicions about inmates in Georgian prisons being tortured, to little effect. The recent footage has brought the issue to the forefront.

For the last several years the death toll among Georgian prison inmates has increased dramatically. Former Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance Khatuna Kalmakhelidze's response that most inmates died of old age was cynical. In reality most of those who died were not old and some showed evidence of being tortured before they died. There are up to 25,000 inmates currently incarcerated in Georgia. Several thousand more are currently on probation. Estimating that each inmate has approximately four or five relatives means that more than 100,000 people are closely related to somebody behind bars. Opposition members claim the penitentiary system deliberately used the threat of torture against inmates to blackmail their relatives into voting for the ruling party.

President Saakashvili immediately reacted to the footage by loudly condemning torture and promising to severely punish those responsible. Under his orders all employees of Gldani Prison were fired with patrol police officers temporarily taking over operations at the facility. He ordered Prime Minister Merabishvili to personally take responsibility for this matter. Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance Kalmakhelidze resigned, and more than 10 prison officials seen in the video were identified and detained. President Saakashvili admitted that there has been a systematic failure in prison reform. Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria also acknowledged that a failure had occurred. PM Merabishvili has promised to punish all persons involved in this crime. Chairman of Parliament David Bakradze promised that in the next parliamentary session the United National Movement will initiate a deeper investigation of the issue. However all this could not defuse the alarm and indignation of the Georgian population. Protest marches have occurred all over the country in the last two days in outrage against what happened at Gldani Prison. Patriarch Ilia II has also asked the authorities to thoroughly investigate the facts. The opposition has unanimously condemned what occurred at Gldani but has also urged the population not to protest too violently as it might provoke the ruling authorities to announce a state of emergency and postpone the elections. The US Embassy reacted immediately condemning the torture. The world media is also putting this news in the spotlight. The Georgian public wants to believe that the current government genuinely regrets this occurring under their leadership. However one opposition member challenged this saying that the President was not angry about prisoners being tortured, rather that he was angry that it became public. Before this incident the current government generally ignored accusations of misconduct in prisons whenever journalists and opposition members mentioned the issue. Either the government was extremely negligent in ensuring that correct procedures were being followed in prisons or (worse) deliberately ignored incidents of torture and attempted to conceal it from the public. In any event the UNM has received a serious blow just 10 days before the parliamentary elections.