Dimitri Shashkin yesterday said he didn’t know there was abuse in the prisons until October 2012, although nine prison staff were reprimanded in 2011 after the Council of Europe exposed systematic mistreatment. (Maestro.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–The exiled Saakashvili ally Dimitry Shashkin returned to Georgia on Wednesday to answer questions about the abuse in the prisons.

Shashkin was among many officials in the former regime who fled the country after the National Movement’s election defeat in 2012. He served as prison minister from 2009 to 2010, and later education minister and defense minister.

August 16, he was called in for questioning by prosecutors in his home country for his role as prison minister.

Arriving at Tbilisi airport yesterday, Shashkin said he was willing to meet at the Prosecutor’s Office and answer questions if asked.

In a statement the Prosecutor’s Office wrote that beating, torture and mistreatment took place in almost every prison in Georgia. This was done systematically by groups, every day, by different means and methods, in cells and in open prison areas.

It has looked into tens of cases and found that the abuse was not stopped by the authorities at the time, despite regular warnings in the annual reports by the ombudsman, and by local and international organizations and media.

Shashkin yesterday denied having had knowledge of prison abuse before a series of video clips leaked by a former prison guard ahead of the election last year, which led to a public outcry, and said the resignation of two ministers shortly after showed that his government had taken responsibility for the abuse.

Also Shashkin’s successor, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, denied having known about the widespread abuse in Georgian prisons under her watch.

Council of Europe wrote after a visit in February 2010 that many inmates at Ksani prison had told them that they were beaten upon arrival. The same was true about Geguti prison, where there also were many who said they had been beaten with truncheons, which Georgia was not allowed to fit its prison staff with. Prison management denied the presence of truncheons.

At Geguti, a form of disciplinary unit (“kartzer”), was used “very frequently”, the Council of Europe wrote, with about 1 500 placements in 2009, while Shashkin was prison minister. The organization asked for further information about a death of an inmate in the “kartzer” in February 2010.

In its response in June 2011, the Georgian Prison Ministry called the death a suicide. It also wrote that there had been no disciplinary reaction against any of the prison staff in the years 2008 and 2009.

Though not asked by the CoE about later years, the ministry added that four prison staff at Ksani and five at Geguti were reprimanded in 2010, a month and a half after the CoE’s report criticized conditions in exactly those two prisons.