• Georgia's president Mikheil Saakashvili suspended prison guards after video footage released to media show rampant inmate abuse (Photo: European Parliament)

EU condemns Georgia prison rape, torture

21.09.12 @ 09:25

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - The EU on Thursday (20 September) condemned the physical and sexual abuse of Georgian prison inmates which has sparked mass protests in Tbilisi and several other cities.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said she was "appalled by the shocking footage of abuses committed against inmates."

The video was leaked to Georgian media on Tuesday, showing prison guards torturing inmates. In one incident, a prisoner pleaded with guards not to film the scene. He was then raped.

The footage confirmed long-held suspicions that prison abuse and torture is rampant in Georgia's correctional facilities.

The government reacted by temporarily suspending the country's entire prison staff and replacing them with police. Some 15 prison guards linked to the incident have since been arrested.

The affair also prompted prisons minister Khatuna Kalmakhelidze's resignation on Wednesday, followed by Georgia's interior minister Bacho Akhalaia on Thursday.

"Our nation is based on the respect of human rights and human dignity and it will get rid of this ugly violence," said president Mikheil Saakashvili.

His government at the same time insinuated that the incident is part of a larger conspiracy by the opposition to defame Saakashvili in the lead up to elections.

Politicians opposing the incumbent claim such brutality has only increased under his rule.

Saakashvili's policy of clamping down on corruption and crime exploded Georgia's prison population, which is now one of the world's highest with 538 inmates for every 100,000 Georgian citizens, reports the Guardian.

"That such horrible acts occurred just a few kilometers from the Presidential Palace should be unimaginable, but unfortunately this shows the true nature of our leaders," Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of the Georgian Dream Coalition, the main opposition movement, said on Thursday.

Saakashvili and Ivanishvili are squaring off in a parliamentary election on 1 October which could eventually unseat the President, who has kept power since the 2003 Rose Revolution.

Saakashvili has been accused of undermining press freedom and firing teachers and other public sector employees sympathetic to the opposition.

The state has also fined the Ivanishvili coalition over $100 million, a sum the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog, said in August is both "excessive and disproportionate" and undermines "normal political activity by an opposition party."

Amnesty International also in August condemned "what appears to be politically targeted violence" geared towards independent journalists and opposition leaders.

For his part, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary-general of Nato, warned in early September that the October elections will test the Nato-aspirant countr's democratic credentials.

Georgia is keen to join the alliance after it launched in late 2008 a large-scale assault in its breakaway region of South Ossetia. The attack sparked a five-day war with Russia and resulted in hundreds of causalities.

Five EU foreign ministers arrived in the country on Monday to help monitor the elections.

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