Friday, 28 June 2013

Georgian MIA Uncovers Shocking Evidence Against Former Government

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by Eka Janashia (the 06/26/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On June 17, Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) disclosed a covert cache in the western region of Samegrelo, storing videotapes allegedly screening brutal torture, sexual abuse, beating and inhuman treatment of individuals; photos and private data on certain political opponents whose arrests were planned in the event of a United National Movement (UNM) victory in the October 1, 2012 parliamentary elections; and a large amount of explosive devices, military munitions, narcotics and psychotropic medicines.

The MIA presented a small part of the uncovered videotapes depicting brutal torture, conducted in 2011 by law enforcement officers against two detainees, to the diplomatic corps accredited in Georgia, media and civil society representatives, political analysts and commentators. In connection to the torture videos Tbilisi City Court ordered pre-trial detention for nine persons on June 21, most of which are former law enforcement officers.

The ruling coalition, Georgian Dream (GD) claimed that the discovered videos did not illustrate isolated cases but portrayed a systemic failure prompting the political responsibility of president and other high-profile government figures. 

Initially, the UNM insisted that the arms cache was a secret storage site of the Ministry of Defense (MOD), to be used for defensive purposes in the case of a foreign military invasion and guerrilla warfare. However, Defense Minister Irakli Alasania rejected the UNM’s assertions saying that the cache had never belonged to MOD.

President Mikheil Saakashvili later demanded a parliamentary investigative commission to be set up in order to supervise the MIA’s probe into the revealed crimes in an effort to avoid political bias and determine the “objective truth.”

In his televised remarks, Saakashvili expressed regret that “sadists and violators” had been transferred from Eduard Shevardnadze’s administration into the state system during his term in office and named two former officials, the former head of the Constitutional Security Department Levan Kardava and the former deputy prosecutor general David Chkhatarashvili, as responsible for the appalling cases. Saakashvili insisted that Kardava and Chkhatarashvili are now cooperating with new government, in particular with Prime Minister Ivanishvili’s adviser Gia Khukhashvili, one of the most influential figures in the GD coalition. “Speculation about such cases being of a systemic nature represent part of a campaign directed against the previous authorities and personally against me,” Saakashvili said.

Notably, two days before the MIA revealed the cache the U.S. Congress released a document stating that the measures taken by the new Georgian government against former officials appeared to be politically motivated and could have a destructive impact on bilateral ties between the U.S. and Georgia as well as on Georgia’s perspectives for accession to international organizations. In particular, the paper termed the arrest of former Prime Minister and secretary general of the UNM Vano Merabishvili as an “especially troubling” factor.

Co-rapporteurs from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Štefan Füle as well as NATO secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also expressed concerns regarding Merabishvili’s arrest and proclaimed that “even the perception” of politically motivated persecution should be avoided.

Merabishvili was arrested on May 21 for abuse of power, misspending, embezzlement and bribing of voters. The use of disproportional force in the dispersal of an anti-government rally on May 26, 2011, organized by former speaker of parliament Nino Burjanadze, is among the major charges brought against him.

The recently unearthed videotapes could well become a source of additional charges against Merabishvili. In the Talk Show Position on Rustavi 2 on June 21, Interior Minister Irakli Gharibashvili stated that given Merabishvili’s reputation as a strongman, it was hardly imaginable that he would not have been informed about such grave crimes while heading the MIA.

The Georgian government is apparently making an effort to validate the arrest of the former Prime Minister and eschew the allegations of applying selective justice. However, whereas an enormous emphasis is placed on the restoration of justice, Vladimer Bedukadze – a person connected to the prison abuse scandal and who has been accused of severe crimes such as torture and inhuman treatment – was surprisingly fully exempted from criminal liability on June 19, following a plea bargain including “special cooperation” between him and Georgia's General Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili.

In addition, Nino Burjanadze, who organized the 2011 anti-government rally, has still not been charged with an incident during those events. It is known that when the riots started, the convoy carrying Burjanadze and her husband Badri Bitsadze crashed into several people at high speed when trying to leave the scene, resulting in the death of one policeman and several injured bystanders. Such episodes damage the credibility of the government’s declared policy to restore justice.

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