TBILISI, DFWatch — A former interior minister and two military officers are appearing in court Friday for a preliminary detention hearing.
Tbilisi City Court is hearing the case of Bacho Akhalia, former interior minister, Giorgi Kalandadze, head of the general headquarters and Zurab Shamatava, commander of the fourth brigade, starting from 14:00.
Before the court session, the prosecutor’s office published five testimonies which formed the basis for detaining the three.
The first witness begins by telling that has been in the armed forces until October 2011, when his contract was illegally suspended. He is a sergeant with a wife and a five year old son.
He writes that in certain cases when he was at Vaziani base in Tbilisi he spoke disparagingly about Bacho Akhalaia and Giorgi Kalanadadze, who was head of the General Headquarters then.
According to the testimony, the witness was taken to the defense ministry building, where Bacho Akhalaia was waiting for him, holding a large knife, which he used to cut fruit and eat it.
Akhalaia had a recording of the witness while he was talking badly about him.
“The minister got up, approached and hit me with a knife, which he was holding by the blunt side,” he writes, adding that he was not seriously injured. He writes that other people in the room also hit him, including Giorgi Kalandadze.
His punishment was to fulfill ‘black type of work’ for one month.
“Shamatava and a sergeant beat me mercilessly for five minutes,” the witness writes, adding that the same day he was forced to write his own resignation.
Another witness remembers a stranger called him to ask him go in the street, where a police car was waiting. Military police chained him and placed him into the car without explanation. The witness had been working at the defense ministry since 2006.
He was moved to the fifth floor where several other defense personnel were waiting.
Bacho Akahalaia, Giorgi Kalandadze and Zurab Shamadava then scolded him.
Afterwards, they were moved to the defense ministry and put in separate rooms, which were protected by police.
“We were prohibited from sitting down, eating and drinking water. Every five minutes we had to shout ‘viva fourth brigade’. Our torture lasted three days.”
The third witness is a soldier who says he was put in a military police car and taken to Vaziani base, at the fourth brigade.
Bacho Akhalaia and Giorgi Kalandadze tore off their military signs as if dishonorable soldiers.
“Afterwards, Bacho Akhalaia told Kalandadze to relegate us to privates and force us to plow,” he writes, adding that he was also forced not to leave the country and inform a military police employee about each step he made.
In his testimony, the soldier says that while being in the brigade, the minister hit him in the head with a small stick.
The fourth witness writes former defense minister accused him of having organized a riot on the premises of the fourth infantry brigade, but he refused.
Afterwards, Giorgi Kalandadze came and started beating him in the face and head. He was taken out from the office and forced to run in circles and beaten after several circles, thrown on the ground and kicked. This lasted 15-20 minutes.
Then he was taken to the left bank of the river Mtkvari, where a black minibus waited for him. The driver was Bacho Akhalaia. Giorgi Kalandadze was sitting next to him with some other people. He was taken back to the fourth brigade.
“We were taken outside. Zurab Shamatava several times hit me in the face. They threatened that if I didn’t sign about the riot, they would place drugs on me and arrest me and my family members.”
All three officials were arrested for abusing their powers, but the former defense minister was also arrested for illegal deprivation of freedom.
Friday Chief Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili spoke about another incident which took place on September 13, 2011.
An associate of Akhalaia visited the victim in the morning to take him to a restaurant, where Akhalaia waited for him with Giorgi Kalandadze and some other people.
The victim was then hit in the neck with a chair. Armed people held him down while others were beating. Kalandadze and Akhalaia also beat him and threatened to kill him. The witness was beaten several times that day and forced to give his own car as a present to the prison department.
At the end of day the car was given back to him, and he was warned not to tell anyone what had happened.
Abuse of power is punishable with up to eight years in jail, while deprivation of freedom is punishable with up to ten years in jail.
Bacho Akhalaia’s lawyers consider the accusations groundless and state that the former minister denies guilt in all cases.
A small rally is currently ongoing outside Tbilisi City Hall to support Bacho Akhalaia. Couple of buses arrived from the Zugdidi region to express solidarity with Akhalaia. Zugdidi is a region bordering the conflict region Abkhazia, which has been under control of Roland Akhalaia, father of Bacho Akhalaia, for years. He won the majoritarian election for parliament from this district on October 1.
There are also people demonstrating against the former minister outside the court building.
Bacho Akhalaia is thought to be personally have taken active part in prison abuse and in a prison riot in 2006. He has served as prison minister, defense minister and interior minister in different periods and is considered a sworn ally of President Saakashvili.