Georgian TV stations air footage of jail brutality


GEORGIAN PRESIDENT Mikheil Saakashvili has urged voters not to abandon his party in forthcoming parliamentary elections, amid protests over a prison brutality scandal that has forced two cabinet ministers to resign.

The interior minister and prisons minister stepped down after television stations aligned with opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili aired footage of prison guards beating and raping male inmates.

The footage prompted thousands of people to protest on the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, and other major towns in recent days, just as Georgia gears up for the October 1st election.

Recent surveys have given Mr Saakashvili’s ruling party a healthy lead over Mr Ivanishvili’s newly formed Georgian Dream alliance, but uproar over the treatment of prisoners could undermine the president’s claims to be rooting out crime and corruption and rapidly modernising the country.

“What happened goes beyond any human principles . . . I have rarely in my life been so angry and outraged – perhaps never,” Mr Saakashvili said.

“But we should not throw out the baby with the bath water . . . I do not want this small fragment, which is like a cancer in our body, to destroy the state. The cancer needs to be treated radically and we have already done that and will continue doing it.”

Mr Saakashvili joined other officials in suggesting that opposition forces were linked to the scandal, saying: “I call on everyone not to use human fate . . . for various political games . . . Society’s main instinct should be to move the country forward and not let it return to the dark past.”

The state prosecutor’s office said 11 prison officials had been arrested, and that some guards had organised and filmed the attacks in return for substantial sums of money from an unnamed source.

“I want to tell those who were financing it: how can everything be traded for elections? How can everything be used for gaining political dividends?” Mr Saakashvili said.

Allies of the billionaire Mr Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man, deny any involvement in the scandal. Irakli Alasania, a leading member of Georgian Dream, said the footage “unmasked Saakashvili’s regime, exposing a sadistic mechanism hidden behind its glossy facade”.

Mr Saakashvili is the West’s main ally in the volatile and strategically important Caucasus region, but critics accuse him of stifling dissent, cracking down on opponents and making appalling miscalculations four years ago when Georgia lost a brief war with Russia.

Mr Ivanishvili has been stripped of Georgian citizenship and fined millions of euro for alleged campaign funding violations since entering politics. He also says his activists have been threatened, beaten and wrongly arrested by the police and Saakashvili loyalists.

Government officials deny the tycoon or his allies face discrimination, and accuse him of using his fortune to “buy” power and of planning to restore Russian influence over Georgia.

Mr Ivanishvili says he will accept election results that are approved by western monitors. But he has also threatened to bring one million protesters on to the streets if the vote is rigged.