President Saakashvili said inhuman treatment of inmates in Gldani prison No.8 in Tbilisi demonstrated that “there was a systemic failure” in the penitentiary, which required a major overhaul of the system, and put PM Vano Merabishvili in charge of this task.
He told the PM to “temporarily” bring in to the most “problematic prisons” patrol police before selection and training of the new staff for those prison facilities.
“Sideline prison staff, especially in the problematic prisons, and bring in temporarily patrol police. This is a temporary measure unless selection, reshuffle, training [of prison staff] takes place,” Saakashvili said.
“Bring in patrol police teams; this is not entirely a function of the patrol [police], but it’s an emergency situation and it is a temporary measure unless we put everything fundamentally in order,” he said in a televised meeting with the PM in presence of Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili; Chief Prosecutor Murtaz Zodelava.
Giorgi Lortkipanidze, who has been put in charge of the prison system after its previous head was dismissed, was also present. Lortkipanidze previously served as Deputy Interior Minister; he also held the same post when Merabishvili was the Interior Minister. Bacho Akhalaia, who as Interior Minister is directly in charge of police force, was not present.
“The main question I have is: where the prosecutor’s office was until now?” asked Saakashvili at the meeting; chief prosecutor’s office is part of the Justice Ministry.
“The fact that such a large group, complete maniacs among them, were acting unpunished for so many months, I do not know with what motives or without them at all, were beating and humiliating people… and the fact that we launched investigation over it only several weeks ago, it means that many units have failed,” he said.
“Such things may always happen, but not with such scales and for such a long time. It actually means that there was a systemic failure.”
“Therefore, our answer should be much broader, than just arresting of these people [prison officials facing charges of inhuman treatment and torture],” he said.
“First and foremost, we should revise the system entirely. This is the only remaining partially reformed structure in the state apparatus.”
“Although [ex-prison system minister Khatuna] Kalmakhelidze has changed many things… it appeared that all these were superficial, partial changes and the core issues remained as nasty as they were previously.”
“The entire system, the way it functions today, has to be abolished; the entire Penitential Department needs to be reorganized and reestablished as you did it with patrol police,” he told PM Merabishvili referring to the police reform, when the entire traffic police was sacked to form the new police.
Although Saakashvili did not emphasize much on political aspect of the case, he claimed that this abuse of inmates was part of “political war of compromising materials”. According to official version of events, several prison guards were bribed to mistreat inmates and to record it on video. The authorities have claimed that Tamaz Tamazashvili, an inmate of the Gldani prison No.8, who is associated with Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, was involved in the plot of bribing prison guards.
“I understand very well that this is the political war of compromising materials, but I am less worried about politics now,” Saakashvili said. “I know very well that money is involved; it is a well-established fact that all these have been plotted, but does it matter? You should not give a pretext… and the system should not be in the hands of some maniacs, who will be easily manipulated from within and outside by bad people.”
“We thought that we changed many things and we did, but major nasty things turned out to be still remaining [in the penitentiary],” Saakashvili said. “Yes those inmates are problematic people – some have committed grave crimes, there are murderers, there are those who have committed rape, there are robbers, but like we have zero tolerance towards these crimes, which resulted into decline of crime rate almost to zero, we also should have similar zero tolerance towards human rights infringement, because we are building civilized country and not just discipline built on violence.”
“There are many mechanisms through which it is possible to establish discipline without even touching with a finger to a person and there are many methods through which it is possible to convince a person in civilized, democratic forms. In this case [of inmates’ abuse], I think, those people were simply getting please from what they were doing,” he said.
“It is also very important to establish exactly what has happened. Therefore, it is necessary to set up a parliamentary commission with public involvement.”
He also proposed to allow Public Defender’s representatives to be based permanently inside prison facilities and also offered to increase funding of the Public Defender’s Office for that purpose.
“In recent years [Public Defender] Giorgi Tugushi has been talking and criticizing this system and as it turned out it was justified criticism,” Saakashvili said.
He also instructed to allow prisoners to make unscheduled appointments with their relatives.
“We should open the system as much as possible; closed systems result into such things, which have happened,”
PM Merabishvili told the President that he personally was assuming responsibility to ensure security of each and every prisoner.
“I guarantee that in a very short period of time, this system will become adequate to present Georgia and the public confidence towards this system will increase; such things will not occur anymore,” PM Merabishvili said.