Georgian President suspends the country's prison staff over abuse scandal; arrests, resignations follow


People shout on September 19, 2012 during a protest against torture in prisons, blocking one of the main streets in Tbilisi. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili deployed on September 19 police in jails to replace prison officers after videos showing the alleged rape and beatings of convicts sparked protests ahead of bitterly-contested elections.


Vano Shlamov

Georgia's entire prison staff has been suspended in a sweeping move by President Mikhail Saakashvili, after video footage showing guards allegedly abusing inmates sparked massive protests across the country.

The top official in charge of prisons in Georgia was one of several prison officials to resign Wednesday in the wake of the uproar, while 10 others were arrested in connection with the investigation, The New York Times reported.

The video shows prisoners being severely beaten by prison staff, and one prisoner being sexually abused with a broom, BBC News reported. The New York Times reported that the object used to sodomize a prisoner appeared to be a police baton.

Protesters in several cities including Tbilisi, Batumi, Poti and Gori took to the streets Tuesday, and relatives of the abused inmates tried to storm the Gldan detention facility where the alleged abuses took place, RT News reported

Saakashvili has dispatched police to all the country's prisons, and also called on Georgia's Interior Minister and Mister of Justice to step down, Radio Free Europe reported

"There must be zero tolerance to any violations of human rights, because we are building a civilized and humane country, rather than discipline based on violence," the President said in a televised broadcast. 

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Georgia's Minister of Corrections Khatuna Kalmakhelidze stepped down Wednesday following news of the scandal, Radio Free Europe reported. 

Human rights activists denounced the abuse, which some members of the ruling government have speculated is a ploy by the opposition to put the ruling government in hot water ahead of October 1st elections, BBC reported. 

“The abuse captured in this footage is profoundly disturbing,” said Giorgi Gogia, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to ensure full accountability—including criminal accountability—for this abuse and take measures to prevent it from ever happening again.”

On Tuesday, the  Interior Ministry opened an investigation into the abuse, HRW reported.