A failure to heed Public Defender’s findings about “systemic problems” in the penitentiary was authorities’ “grave mistake”, Giga Bokeria, Secretary of Georgian National Security Council said on September 19.
He said that he was “shocked” with the video footage showing inhuman treatment of inmates in the Gldani prison No.8 in Tbilisi, as well as by the scale of the problem revealed by these recordings.
“We, as the authorities, made a grave mistake, when we failed to properly assess those signals coming from the Public Defender, various civil society groups about the systemic problems existing in this system,” he said.
“The fact that we were carrying out successful struggle against crime in prisons in recent year cannot justify that horrible pictures, which we saw,” Bokeria said and added that it was also important not to let such “systemic problems.”
Meanwhile, Channel 9 TV aired on September 19 blurred video footage, which it said was showing prison guards abusing and threatening with rape juvenile inmates.
Protest rallies, launched late on Tuesday after series of videos of prisoners’ abuse and rape emerged, reconvened in Tbilisi and in other parts of the country on September 19.
A huge group of students hit the Tbilisi streets on September 19 to protest against prisoners’ abuse; they also protested outside the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s (GPB) headquarters accusing it of not providing full picture of the story. GPB covered developments related to prisoners’ abuse case extensively in its 8pm news bulletin. Large number of students also protested outside the headquarters of Interior Ministry’s Department for Constitutional Security. Protesters dispersed peacefully late on Wednesday.
A separate protest rally was held outside the government’s office and protesters were also gathered in some other towns of the country on September 19.
Among the most frequently voiced demands were resignation of Bacho Akhalaia, the interior minister, who was prison system chief in 2005-2008, who allegedly was informally overseeing prison system until now. Several senior prison officials arrested in connection to inmates’ abuse case were Akhalaia’s close associates.
Earlier on September 19 President Saakashvili tasked PM Vano Merabishvili, who was interior minister before early July, to oversee a major overhaul in the prison system; as part of this effort patrol police units were sent in some of the prison facilities to temporarily replace the prison staff.
President Saakashvili announced about this move while meeting with PM Merabishvili; 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.