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Scandal Highlights Poor Conditions Inside Georgia's Prisons

Some 2,000 people demonstrated against the government in Tbilisi on September 19.
Some 2,000 people demonstrated against the government in Tbilisi on September 19.
Some 2,000 people staged spontaneous protests in Tbilisi late on September 18 after two independent TV channels aired footage showing prison guards beating and sodomizing with a broom handle a prisoner at Tbilisi’s Prison No. 8.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili swiftly condemned the abuse in a post on his Facebook page, saying that all those responsible “deserve the strictest punishment.”

Georgia’s minister with responsibility for the prison system, probation, and legal aid, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, whose dismissal the protesters demanded, responded by firing the ministry official responsible for overseeing the prison system. Kalmakhelidze has since submitted her resignation to Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili.

The six-minute video footage was aired by the TV stations Channel 9 and Maestro just hours after the Georgian Interior Ministry reported that three guards at Prison No. 8 had been arrested for “inhumane” treatment of prisoners. The ministry has released its own footage of two prison guards beating a prisoner. It said that footage was filmed by prison guards in exchange for payment of an unspecified sum of money by prisoner Tamaz Tamazashvili, whose son and son-in-law are aligned with Bidzina Ivanishvili, the head of the Georgian opposition coalition Georgian Dream.

Tamazashvili’s son is one of Georgian Dream’s majoritarian candidates in the October 1 parliamentary election. His son-in-law, Irakli Gabashvili, is reportedly one of Ivanishvili’s closest advisers.

Tamaz Tamazashvili, a former regional police chief, was arrested in the fall of 2011 shortly after Ivanishvili announced his intention of entering politics and was jailed for 3 1/2 years for illegal possession of firearms.

Georgia has the sixth-highest per capita prison population in the world, with 538 prisoners per 100,000 people. It also has an exceptionally high mortality rate among prisoners: 144 in 2011, or one prisoner every three days.

Georgia’s human rights ombudsman Giorgi Tughushi, Human Rights Watch, and the U.S. State Department have all expressed concern about overcrowding, “dangerously substandard conditions,” and alleged mistreatment in Georgian prisons.

Tbilisi’s Prison No. 8 has a particularly bad reputation. It is there that 90 percent of the 144 deaths of prisoners recorded in 2011 took place. The opposition Democratic Movement headed by former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze demanded in May a formal investigation into conditions in that particular prison.

Prison No. 8 is not the only Georgian penitentiary at which irregularities have been reported. In March 2006, seven prisoners at Tbilisi’s Prison No. 5 were killed when personnel reportedly suppressed a riot and thwarted a planned breakout. Surviving prisoners implicated in that violence Bacho Akhalaia, then head of the Justice Ministry’s department for overseeing prisons, now Georgian interior minister.

Participants in the September 18 protests called for Akhalaia’s resignation, as well as that of Kalmakhelidze.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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