Prison abuse scandal rocks Georgia election

Saakashvili sacks officials but says shock TV footage is an attempt to destabilise country ahead of vote

Moscow

A prison abuse scandal threatens to inflame tensions in Georgia, where in a fortnight the country's pro-Western President will face a vote of confidence in parliamentary elections, in which his leading foe is a billionaire oligarch.

Protests hit several Georgian cities after opposition television channels showed videos that feature shocking images of a group of prison guards violently and sexually abusing inmates at a penitentiary facility near the capital, Tbilisi. Mikheil Saakashvili's government acted swiftly to fire officials responsible, but also strongly insinuated that the violence had been staged as a political provocation, an allegation the opposition described as ridiculous.

Parliamentary elections on 1 October will see Mr Saakashvili's party stand against Georgian Dream, a coalition of opposition forces gathered around Bizdina Ivanishvili, a Georgian billionaire who made his fortune in Russia, and came out of self-imposed seclusion last autumn to announce a dramatic entry into politics.

Coming so soon before the elections, the videos could damage Mr Saakashvili's credentials as a moderniser.

The Prisons Minister resigned immediately, and Mr Saakashvili promised that all of those behind the abuse would be brought to justice. "Our nation is based on the respect of human rights and human dignity and it will get rid of this ugly violence," the Georgian President said in a statement yesterday. "Those who committed these crimes will spend long years in jail." All prison staff were suspended and police were sent into prisons to take their place yesterday.

The government also insinuated that the videos were part of a calculated plot, presumably to destabilise the country ahead of elections. However, Mr Saakashvili also appeared to indicate that all was not as it seemed, referring in his statement to people who "bribed guards to stage these horrors and film them", though a government spokesperson could not say whether there is any actual evidence for this.

The insinuation that the crimes were staged did not appear on a version of Mr Saakashvili's statement posted to the Presidential website. However, the country's Interior Ministry issued a statement also alleging that the abuse was a set-up. "An investigation revealed that several members of the jail's security department had been involved in a plan to carry out abusive activities and record them," it said. "Evidence shows that payments were made to coordinate and stage these appalling activities." It did not release any of the "evidence" it referred to.

Mr Saakashvili came to power in the Rose Revolution of 2003 and carried out a number of sweeping reforms, promising to bring Georgia closer to the EU and Nato. But support for him has waned after two terms in office, and his critics say he shows increasingly dictatorial streaks.

Mr Ivanishvili, rated by Forbes magazine as among the richest 200 people in the world, yesterday called on his supporters not engage in street protests or violence over the torture videos, but to express their grievances at the ballot box next month.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: B2B Internal Sales Executive - OTE £32,000

£16000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a hands-on role which i...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT Project Management / Programme Manager - London

£65000 - £68000 per annum + Bonus and 26 days holidays: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence