Georgians Demonstrate Against Torture In Government-Run Prisons

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Several thousand people in Georgia rallied against the incumbent government of Prime Minister Mikhail Saakashvili this weekend after videos from government-run prisons depicted appalling torture of inmates. Pushed out on September 18 by the opposition leader, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the videos document savage beatings and sexual assault against prisoners by guards who were seemingly enjoying themselves (warning — graphic depiction of sexual assault):

PRISONER: “Please don’t video tape it. I will do everything you ask for!”

GUARD: “What will you do?”

PRISONER: “Please stop!”

GUARD: “It is already videotaped. Did it hurt? Did it hurt a lot? Did your ass hurt?” …

Prisoner is chained to cell bars, wears a head protection, so he can’t hurt his head hitting it on the cell bars. This time there is no guard in the cell itself. The guard asks the same question over and over again. The prisoner was raped with a broom and is abased by the guard.

Given the scale of the protests and the upcoming election on October 1, the scandal — dubbed Georgia’s Abu Ghraib — appears primed to shake up the Georgian political scene. The videos, together with past reports of prisoner abuse, appear to implicate several officials high-up in the Saakashvili government. Moreover, they cement the broader perception of lost democracy and reversion to one-party rule in Georgia, as the government’s respect for human rights has been in decline in recent years, despite the fact that Saakashvili rose to power as part of a democratic uprising:

Georgia’s human rights record remained uneven in 2011. The government used excessive force to disperse anti-government protests in Tbilisi, the capital, in May, and prosecuted dozens in misdemeanor trials without full respect for due process rights. The authorities failed to effectively investigate these events and past instances of excessive use of force. Other concerns include restrictions on freedom of association and media, as well as forced evictions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in state-owned temporary housing.

The evidence of torture and authoritarian backsliding in Georgia presents a serious problem for American neoconservatives, who have embraced Georgia as a democratic bulwark against Russia and potential NATO ally after the latter’s 2008 invasion of the small, post-Soviet republic. The Romney campaign has pledged to confront Russia on Georgia-related issues. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said this month that he “admired the remarkable progress made by Georgia under [Saakashvili’s] leadership,” adding that the Georgian President was a personal friend and a “friend of the United States.” He also wrote that “the partnership between the United States and Georgia rests not on individuals alone, but on our shared commitment to a set of mutual interests and universal values, including democracy, rule of law, and human rights.”