President Saakashvili said on September 21 that after the shock caused by graphic images of prisoners’ torture now it was time for everyone to “open eyes widely” and to see that the release of these videos was deliberately timed just before the elections in order to make voters cast ballot “impulsively, under the shock” with a goal to derail Georgia and throw it back into the past.
He also said that it was part of a broader “conspiracy” against Georgia ahead of the October 1 parliamentary elections, orchestrated with the use of “Russian money” in a style of “Russian war of compromising materials” with an eventual goal to force Georgia “back into Russia’s imperial space.”
Saakashvili also said that “the occupant of our territories has vowed to accomplish in next few weeks and months what it failed to do in 2008 and to use elections for this purpose.”
Saakashvili was speaking at an opening ceremony of huge Public Service Hall, which is one-stop shop where citizen can get multiple services from various state agencies under the single roof; senior government officials were also present, including Giorgi Tugushi, newly appointed prison system minister and Eka Zguladze, who became an acting interior minister after Bacho Akhalaia had to resign following protests over prison abuse.
Several hundred protesters, fewer in numbers than in previous days, scuffled with the police as they tried to approach the venue where Saakashvili was speaking outside the new Public Service Hall. Four protesters were arrested with two of them jailed for 20 days and two others for 40 days for disobeying police orders.
Saakashvili said that what had happened in the Gldani prison No.8 was “a shameful holdover of the past.”
“I want to make it very clear that not a single practice of the past will gain its foothold in our institutions… I am here to tell you that despite of all the obstacles and provocations and also despite of [our own] failures we are mostly keeping the promise” of preventing Georgia from being thrown back into the past, he said.
“Unfortunately, such things happen in many countries – I am not justifying anything by saying it, but such things happen in many other, more developed countries; and in many countries such things are not even made public. Here everything was made public and it is right.”
“But look at how we have responded it – we responded like a democratic government of the 21st century would have reacted to it. We responded by completely dismantling the system, which allowed such a systemic failure to happen.”
As part of the authorities’ reaction, he said, public defender Giorgi Tugushi was appointed as new minister in charge of the prison system. “And here we have new [acting] interior minister Ekaterine Zguladze. Like this building, which we are together opening today, these two persons [Tugushi and Zguladze] represent new Georgia,” he said.
“I, as the President, have a duty to completely eradicate the holdovers of the past in our system in order to fully fill the gap with and to fully pave way for novelties, new mentality and new way of thinking, new sense of statehood.”
“This is just what our citizens are demanding from us,” he added.
Saakashvili said that now it was time to ask a question why these videos surfaced now, ahead of the elections and why those in possession of these recordings kept it out of public sight for such a long time. He said that it was the authorities’ fault that “a corrupt” official and “a sadist” with “links to organized crime” was working in the prison, mistreating inmates and filming it.
He was apparently referring to Vladimer Bedukadze, who worked as a guard in the Gldani prison No.8 till May, 2012 and who is regarded to be a whistleblower who obtained videos showing prison abuse. Bedukadze, who is now in Brussels seeking political asylum, leaked the videos to the opposition-minded Georgian TV channels after the Interior Ministry released on September 18 footage showing two prison guards beating an inmate. The authorities said that the abuse was part of a plot by “politically-motivated” groups in which prison guards had to film mistreatment of inmates in exchange of significant amount of money. The authorities claim that the deal was arranged by Tamaz Tamazashvili, an inmate of the same prison, who is father-in-law of Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s one of the closest associates, Irakli Garibashvili, who is now running for an MP seat.
Bedukadze says that the Interior Ministry’s video footage was staged after the authorities learned that he had genuine video footage of prisoners’ abuse and they tried to act preemptively to build a false narrative as if he was working for the opposition. Bedukadze, who is wanted in Georgia, says that he has been collecting the footage for more than a year.
According to the prosecutor’s office, eight of those eleven prison officials, who have been arrested in connection to prisoners’ abuse, were not related to the plot by politically-motivated group and their actions were part of what appeared to be a systematic practice of prisoners’ abuse.
“One has to ask the question – why did they keep all these [videos] so that we could not see it?.. They kept them for the elections; and why for these elections? Because they want to use these elections for throwing Georgia from where we all try to run away,” Saakashvili said.
“We know very well that a huge amount of Russian money has flowed into Georgia [accompanied by] Russian methods, with the Russian war of compromising materials and with a classical Russian campaign in order to return Georgia back into the past and to return Georgia to Russia’s imperial space.”
“I am not an ostrich to hide my head in the sand; I know well what is happening in respect of Georgia in the condition when there is Russian money, Russian methods, Russian compromising materials and Russian army, deployed near our borders holding very dangerous military exercises, under conditions when the occupant of our territories has vowed to accomplish in next few weeks and months what it failed to do in 2008 and to use elections for this purpose.”
“Those, who ordered it [prison abuse and its filming], those who paid money for it and those, who turned the blind eye on it, should get no dividends from it,” Saakashvili said.
“Those who are carrying out Russian war of compromising materials should not be allowed to divert the Georgian society from the main issues that are of our concern.”
“I know very well that organized crime tries to get Georgia back into the past. There is nothing new about it and we know much about it. We also know how Georgian, international mafia was getting ready for these elections and we know about their plans. We will spare no efforts in order to give the public full information about conspiracies and plans through which they plan to derail Georgia.”
“I want to ask our people: whom do you trust more? Who will protect your rights better? Do you want Giorgi Tugushi, Eka Zguladze, [Justice Minister] Zurab Adeishvili and [Prime Minister] Vano Merabishvili be replaced by a criminal [Tamaz] Tamazashvili?”
“I have no doubts what will be our society’s answer to this question,” he said.
“The society will do it under conditions of transparency, freedom instead of manipulations, intimidation and various provocations, which aim at confusing people and diverting their attention from main issues,” Saakashvili said.