TI Georgia: Photographer’s account of prison abuse highlights need for full and impartial investigation
The account of Giorgi Abdaladze, one of the four photographers who were arrested in July 2011 and charged with espionage for Russia, sheds more light on the systematic structure of psychological pressure and abuse of inmates in Georgia’s penitentiary system. Abdaladze and his colleagues were released on a plea bargaining agreement after – it appears now – being coerced to provide a false video confession.
In a lengthy interview with Ambebi.ge, published on September 24, Abdaladze says he was coerced into ending a hunger strike right before then Minister of Interior Vano Merabishvili met with media and civil society representatives, in order for the minister to be able to say that he was in good condition. Abdaladze also highlights that the main reason for his false confession of having worked for the Russian secret service were threats by guards to beat and rape other inmates he shared the cell with in front of him.
The photographer says he tried to commit suicide but was saved by another inmate. He also claims that he was coerced into declining legal assistance from lawyer Eka Beselia (who is today running for Parliament for the opposition Georgian Dream). His conversation with visiting representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross was secretly recorded by prison officials, the photographer says.
Abdaladze recalls that the night he was arrested by special forces, a representative of the constitutional security department planted a CD with false evidence in his apartment. After Abdaladze’s arrest, he was transferred to the so called Moduli, the headquarter of the Georgian Special Operative Department under the Ministry of Interior (at the time headed by Data Akhalaia, today the deputy Minister of Defense and brother of Bacho Akhalaia, the recently resigned Minister of Interior). There, he was subject to psychological pressure, including threats of torture with electro shocks, Abdaladze says.
In the interview, Abdaladze says he was shocked by the conditions in the Gldani prison Nr. 8 (the prison where recently released videos of beatings and sexual abuse of inmates by gaurds were recorded), where he was kept in pre-trial detention. Abdaladze states that in this prison, he saw guards severely beating prisoners, inmates being denied health care, and prisoners who were deprived of food and liquid and were not allowed to use the bathroom.
The photographer says that he was not beaten himself but that he heard the sounds of other prisoners being beaten or tortured. Other prisoners told him that there were cases when guards sexually abusesd prisoners with batons, Abdaladze states.
Abdaladze says he recognised several individuals in the recently released prison torture videos who had threatened him and coerced him into a false confession. Among these, Oleg P. and Davit D. – the latter is a police officer who has allegedly blackmailed a reporter of the Batumelebi newspaper, but was never investigated or charged.
During the first court trial another arrested photo reporter, Zurab Kurtsikidze, told him that he was severely beaten, Abdaladze says.
TI Georgia, together with a broad coalition of media and civil society groups, at the time questioned the official version of the investigation, demanded the release of the journalists, and co-organized several rallies in support of the reporters and for a de-clasiffication of their case.
Taking into account the latest information revealed in this interview, TI Georgia calls to the government to launch a new independent investigation of photographers' case.
After videos documenting beatings and sexual abuse of prisoners, TI Georgia and other civil society groups have called for:
- An independent investigation, led by a special prosecutor, to investigate human rights abuses in the penitentiary system, with the direct involvmenet of a civil society driven fact-finding mission;
- The launch of a criminal investigation against the recently resigned Minister of Interior, Bacho Akhalaia, who apparently set up the system of abuse while heading the penitentiary system, and former Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze;
- The resignation of Minister of Justice, Zura Adeishvili, and the Prosecutor General, who have failed to investigate documented cases of abuse, to hold perpetrators accountable, and who might now prevent an independent investigation;
- Furthermore, we are asking for a mechanism to be established to provide assistance to victims of abuse of their families.