TBILISI, DFWatch–The Prosecutor’s Office in Georgia Friday summoned the former prison and defense ministers to question them about the torture in the prisons during the Saakashvili regime.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, it has found, after a number of investigations into tens of cases in the capital and in other regions of Georgia, that the ministry didn’t fulfill its functions and didn’t react to crime and actions by prison employees all over the country.
The statement of the office reads that for years beating, torture and mistreatment took place in almost every prison in Georgia, and this was done systematically by groups for years, every day, by different means and methods, in cells and in open areas of prisons, without any reaction, despite regular warnings in the annual reports by the ombudsman, and by local and international organizations and media.
The current investigation is based on suspicion of negligence by officials in the prison ministry. Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, who was prison minister in the last years of Saakashvili’s government, and Dimitry Shashkin, who was defense minister in the last months of the regime, were called to the office for interrogation with status as witnesses. Shashkin did not attend.
Law enforcers will also interrogate Bacho Akhalaia, former Interior Minister, who is in detention awaiting verdict in an extensive trial that ended a few days ago.
Less than two weeks before the parliamentary election in 2012, a former prison guard published a handful of video clips which documented Abu Ghraib style torture of prisoners by staff. Shortly after, Kalmakhelidze and Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia resigned in the midst of a wave of protests that lasted weeks.
In her first comments since her resignation, she told journalists Friday that she didn’t know about what was happening in the prisons, and when the prison abuse scandal broke, she was concerned and made a decision to resign. She said she took the political responsibility and left immediately after the footage was released in the media.
Addressing journalists at the Prosecutor’s Office, Kalmakhelidze said that the ombudsman’s reports have always been important for her and she always read them carefully and this gave ‘a push for a number of reforms, including staff training’.
She said it is important to study and investigate every case which took place in the prisons.
Prompted by a reporter for Maestro whether she knew about the abuse, she answered:
“Of course I didn’t know. Unfortunately I didn’t know. I think many people didn’t have any idea about such things. I tried my best through reforms and other measures to make things more humane for people serving their sentences in prison.”
Dimitry Shashkin on Friday wrote on his Facebook page that he is in the UK and will return to Georgia on August 28. He wrote that the Prosecutor’s Office wants to question him about the period when he was prison minister. He also writes that he is ready to answer all questions.