The Interior Ministry hosted on June 20 in its headquarters a large group of media and civil society representatives, also including political analysts and commentators, to show them videotapes, which the authorities say, were found in a large arms cache unearthed earlier this week in Samegrelo region, depicting torture of two detainees by law enforcement officers, which according to the Interior Ministry, took place in 2011.
A day earlier the videotapes were shown by the Interior Ministry to a group of Tbilisi-based foreign diplomats.
Videotapes, shown on June 20, contain two separate episodes in which two detainees, whose faces are concealed on the video, are raped and tortured; in one episode law enforcement officers are purportedly trying to obtain confession from the detainee in connection to an alleged terrorism case. Sound was muted on the videos, which have English subtitles.
The Interior Ministry said on June 19 that several persons, among them three acting and one former law enforcement officers and the man accused of sexually abusing two detainees, were arrested in connection to scenes shown on the videotapes.
Judging from officials’ remarks, by screening these videotapes, at first for diplomatic corps and then for a group of media and civil society representatives, the authorities wanted to demonstrate that cases of sexual abuse and torture were of, as the government puts it, “systemic nature” under the rule of UNM party, taking place not only in the penitentiary against inmates but also outside the prison system.
“The society should know who was behind it. I want to remind everyone that Vano Merabishvili was the [interior] minister at the time; all those high ranking officials should be held responsible during whose tenure such terrible things were happening,” Interior Minister Irakli Garibashvili said on June 19 when commenting on videotapes depicting torture of two detainees.
Irakli Alasania, the Defense Minister, told journalists on June 20 that videotapes were evidence of “institutions of massive sadism” existing under the previous authorities.
“Not only Vano Merabishvili, but the President too are politically responsible for these institutions of massive terror and sadism,” Alasania said.
President Saakashvili’s UNM party called for setting up of a parliamentary investigative commission to provide an oversight on the Interior Ministry’s probe into crimes depicted on the videotapes in order to prevent possible use of the case for political purposes against the opposition.
UNM said in a statement on June 20, that it was “such a grave crime that it should be stated unambiguously and without any political speculation, that each and every person, who were involved and who were planning torture and inhuman treatment and who were disseminating videos showing [this crime], should be punished with the fullest extent of the law.”
“It is necessary to set up [a parliamentary] investigative commission for the law enforcement agencies to use the process of investigating these appalling cases and the evidence obtained in the course of this investigation not for carrying out a campaign against political opposition, but for identifying and punishing real perpetrators,” the statement reads.
It said that political factors should be irrelevant in the process of the investigation. “Accordingly, we hope that by setting up investigative commission the Georgian Parliament will be able to avoid political bias and to establish objective truth,” UNM said.
A statement released on June 20 on behalf of UNM secretary general Vano Merabishvili, who is now in pretrial detention facing multiple criminal charges, which he denies as politically motivated, reads that those behind the crimes shown on the videotapes should be held responsible with the fullest extent of the law; the statement says that “if such cases were taking place in the police” under the previous authorities, these were isolated cases which in no way were of systemic nature.
“Speculation about such cases being of systemic nature represent part of a campaign directed against the previous authorities and personally against me,” the statement reads.
In televised remarks on June 20, President Saakashvili said that these crimes should be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators “strictly punished”. He said that “lot has been done” under the previous government to eradicate cases of “torture and obtaining confessions by force” which, he said, were taking place before the Rose Revolution and “situation” in the police “was improved in 99.99 percent of cases.”
“But heinous isles can always emerge in any situation and coercers and sadists can always sneak in and of course I very much regret if such [people] sneaked in there [into the police] when my government [was in power],” Saakashvili said. Like UNM’s statement, Saakashvili also criticized decision on releasing one former prison officer from criminal liability into the last year’s case of prison abuse scandal after chief prosecutor’s motion to the court.
The Interior Ministry’s decision itself to show the videotapes to the large group of media and civil society representatives caused controversy.
Some from the audience, who were gathered in the Interior Ministry on June 20, walked out in protest without watching the footage; among them were representatives from the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Transparency International Georgia and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy; they said that it was unclear what the purpose behind screening these videotapes was and instead of it the Interior Ministry should have shared with the civil society groups information about investigation into these crimes. Few journalists also walked out, among them a host of the talk show on public TV, Davit Paichadze, who said that before the screening he asked the Interior Minister whether the measures were taken to fully conceal identities of those seen on the footage; Paichadze, who is perceived by many GD supporters as sympathizer of the previous authorities, said that instead of receiving a clear answer from the Minister the latter started questioning him why he was not speaking about human rights when UNM was in power; Paichadze said that he left the meeting after that.
Before start of the screening, Interior Minister Garibashvili told the audience that confidentiality of those on the video was protected and warned the audience that the footage was “quite hard to watch.” He also said that it was not appropriate to make the videos available to wider public because “we think that it would cause a huge anxiety in the society.”