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September 19, 2012
Georgian Prisons Minister Steps Down In Wake Of Abuse Videos
by RFE/RL's Georgian Service
TBILISI -- Georgian Minister of Corrections, Probation, and Legal Assistance Khatuna Kalmakhelidze has resigned, one day after television channels controlled by political interests opposed to President Mikheil Saakashvili aired videos purportedly showing the abuse of prisoners at a jail in Tbilisi.
Saakashvili later ordered police to replace prison officers as street protests sparked by the videos continued in Tbilisi and other cities on September 19.
Saakashvili said on Georgian television that he also had demanded a complete overhaul of the country's prison system.
"The penitentiary system should be disbanded and recreated from the start. This should be done in the same way that we dealt with the patrol police," Saakashvili said.
"Yes, this is a discreditation war. But that is the least of my concerns. I understand that all this is done in murky ways and money plays a role there too. But we shouldn't give them any cause [for making criticisms] or make ourselves vulnerable."
At a demonstration against prison abuse in the capital on September 18, Shorena Shaverdashvili, editor in chief of "Liberali" magazine, noted that such abuse is endemic in the Georgian prison system.
"This is not the first incident of torture in prisons," she said. "Year after year, there are documented cases in the ombudsman's report about tortured prisoners. In last year's report alone, there are 140 different identified cases of torture or mishandling prisoners. So this is really a continuation of a tendency and a really horrendous continuation of that tendency."
Shaverdashivili called on the ministers of interior and justice to resign.
CAUCASUS REPORT: Scandal Highlights Poor Prison Conditions
Tea Tsulukiani, an activist with the opposition Georgian Dream movement of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, told Reuters on September 18 that she blamed Saakashvili's government for the abuse.
"Today the Georgian public saw material which shows that our prisoners are tortured in Georgian prisons, and that they are subjected to cruelty as well as inhuman and degrading treatment. In accordance with the European convention, we call all of this treatment torture. And Saakashvili's government is torturing people in Georgian prisons."
WATCH: Georgians Protest Alleged Prison Abuse In Tbilisi
It is not clear when most of the videos were shot, but
one was dated August 24
. They show dozens of guards and officers either participating in or encouraging the abuse of prisoners.
One video shows a prisoner weeping while being raped with a stick.
Georgia's Interior Ministry immediately announced the arrests of three officials at Tbilisi's Prison No. 8.
However, the government claims that some prison officials organized the abuse and its filming at the request of an inmate named Tamaz Tamazashvili, who has connections with Georgian Dream.
Police say $17,000 and video-recording equipment were found in the office of one of the arrested prison officials.
Tamazashvili's son is a Georgian Dream parliament candidate in the town of Dedoplistskaro, and Tamazashvili is the father-in-law of Ivanishvili senior aide Irakli Garibashvili.
Tamazashvili was arrested shortly after Ivanishvili announced his entry into politics in October 2011 on weapons charges. He is serving a 3 1/2-year term, and Ivanishvili has repeatedly labeled him a "political prisoner."
In its criticism of Ivanishvili's political grouping, Saakashvili's ruling United National Movement party has made reference to Tamazashvili, who worked in the Interior Ministry in the period before the 2003 Rose Revolution, and it has also featured him in an attack advertisement.
Georgia will hold parliamentary elections on October 1.
Ivanishvili has vowed to oust the government. But on September 19 he called for calm and asked Georgians to express their anger at the polls.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi said it shared Georgians' "shock and revulsion" at the images. The U.S. Embassy also called on Georgia's government to conduct a "thorough and transparent" investigation.
With reporting by AP, AFP, Civil.ge, and Reuters
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