TBILISI, DFWatch – A spokesperson for the prison minister in Georgia Friday lied about her whereabouts to divert a crowd of protesters who were angry over a dead prisoner.
A spokeswoman for prison minister Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, claimed that she was not in Tbilisi, but a journalist from the Public Broadcaster had interviewed her inside the building twenty minutes earlier.
The prison minister is known for cultivating a public image as a humanitarian by regular appearances on three government-controlled TV channels, while being extremely hostile towards journalists who aren’t part of her PR effort.
Students, lawyers, media, and others Friday got to experience the darker side of Kalmakhelidze’s persona, which rarely gets through in international media, as they gathered in front of the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance to protest a prisoner’s death at a prison hospital.
About 40 people gathered at the entrance, demanding to meet wanted to meet with the minister in charge, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, and held posters saying ‘stop murder and torture at prisons’ and ‘we demand an investigation.’
Organizers say that Delianidze’s death raises too many questions, and details about how he died should be made public.
But as the protesters and a few journalists began entering the building, guards let only part of the people in, forcing others to remain outside.
It came to a dispute when one cameraman and a journalist of a media outlet weren’t allowed in. They were from Channel 9, which recently started broadcasting and is run by associates of opposition billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.
The guards claimed that there were too many people in the building and they couldn’t let any more in. Someone had to leave if others were to be let in, they said. Several people left the building in order to give way to the journalist from Channel 9; but for about 15 minutes, the guards weren’t letting them in, until another employee came down and asked the guards to let them in.
Meanwhile, Shorena Shaverdashvili, editor of Liberali magazine, together with lawyers from Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association (GYLA) asked in the reception for a meeting with the minster.
The staff at the reception answered vaguely that the minister is in the building but busy. Then the activists asked the staff to contact the head of the press office. After several attempts at contacting her, they got through the press spokesperson, who said that the protesters had to send a written application to meet the minister. She added that the minister is not in the building right now, in fact not even in the city.
However, right before the protesters had entered the building, a journalist from the Public Broadcaster said that he recorded a comment from the minister at the ministry about twenty minutes before.
As a matter of principle, protesters demanded an official answer from the ministry. The head of the press office said they would send an official answer in five minutes.
Protesters together with journalists spent two hours at the entrance of the ministry in front of the reception area waiting for an answer. Then on of the staff finally said that working hours were over and they would send an official answer to the address indicated in the letter. Then she closed the window and left.