President Saakashvili said he was “very angry” and “shocked” after watching video footage of inmates’ abuse and rape in prison number 8 in Tbilisi.
“Everyone who has masterminded it, everyone who has perpetrated it, everyone who has done it and allowed it to happen deserves the strictest – I repeat, the strictest – punishment,” he said in a video address posted on the President’s official Facebook page after 3am on September 19.
“Police has already arrested most of the perpetrators of these horrible [acts] and others will definitely also face the justice,” Saakashvili said. “The Interior Ministry has been detecting links between the perpetrators and notorious criminals.”
“I want to tell victims of this crime, their family members and the society that Georgia, which we are building, which I am building with others, will not tolerate this kind of crimes and climate that may lead to something close to such [crimes] and will not tolerate brutality,” he said.
“Those, who were responsible for avoiding it, will be dismissed and those, who have committed it, I promise, will spend many years in jail.”
“The entire idea of new Georgia is about rejecting and distancing from violence and from everything that was happening in the past – organized crime and violence coming from criminals and also from the state; we have left it in the past once and for all and I will not tolerate its reoccurrence in any form in new Georgia, which we are building together,” Saakashvili said.
“I have instructed relevant structures to act promptly, to identify all the perpetrators, to arrest them… and to provide full information to the society, which is justifiably demanding a response from the state agencies. I will personally secure protection of human rights in the [prison] system from both the criminals and such employees of this system, who were acting like mafia members.”
“Our statehood is based on unwavering respect of human rights and dignity and we will put an end to this violence,” Saakashvili said.
Public Defender, Giorgi Tugushi, who has been reporting about abuse of inmates in the prison number 8 in his annual reports, said that syndrome of impunity of those behind mistreatment of prisoners led to the current situation. He said that “the issue of political responsibility” of prison system minister, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, should be raised.
In the recent U.S. Department of State’s annual human rights report, “abuse of prisoners and detainees by government officials as well as dangerously substandard prison conditions” was identified among the three most important human rights problems in Georgia.
A spontaneous protest rally gathered in downtown Tbilisi late on September 18 after two Tbilisi-based TV stations, Maestro and Channel 9, aired, among other videos, undated graphic images showing prison guards raping with a stick an inmate as the latter was weeping and begging guards to stop it.
Protesters started gathering before midnight at the Tbilisi State Concert Hall (Philharmonic Hall) as rumors were swirling that President Saakashvili was attending a musical show in the Philharmonic Hall. Protesters at the rally were calling for resignation of minister for prison system, as well as for resignation of interior minister Bacho Akhalaia, who was prison system chief in 2005-2008 and who is allegedly still overseeing the system informally. The protest rally dispersed peacefully after 3am on September 19.