Thousands rally in Georgia over prison abuse scandal
Thousands of demonstrators protesting police violence turned out in Georgia Saturday, as outrage swelled over a prison abuse scandal that threatens President Mikheil Saakashvili's party a week before parliamentary elections. A massive rally was held in the western city of Zugdidi by supporters of Georgia's richest man Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is challenging Saakashvili in the election, the broadcaster TV-9 reported. Student protests were also held in the capital, Tbilisi.
Copyright Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 2012
It is the country's fourth day of demonstrations, which were sparked after Georgian opposition television aired video of abuse inside a Tbilisi prison. The ruling United National Movement has been rattled by the scandal, with two ministers sacked and further calls for Saakashvili's resignation.
Guards are shown in the videos using brooms to rape prisoners, which has led to the protests in the former Soviet republic being called the "broom revolution," with people burning brooms at protests. Other abuse included daily beatings, removal of clothing, and forcing mentally-handicapped prisoners to sing and dance. Former president Eduard Shevardnadze, whom Saakashvili drove out of office in 2003's Rose Revolution, complained of a "return to slavery."
A prominent football player, Zurab Khizanishvili, has urged Saakashvili to step aside, and a music video entitled The System Must Be Destroyed has become popular with protesters. Saakashvili has promised to quickly reform his country's prison system, ahead of what are expected to be tough parliamentary elections on October 1. He has vowed his government will identify and punish all officials responsible for the abuse.
The Interpress news agency reported Saturday that a number of prison inmates had gone on hunger strike to protest the jail violence, but Giorgy Tugushi, the newly-appointed minister for corrections and legal assistance, denied the report. A mother of one of the striking prisoners told the news agency that her son has continued to suffer mistreatment at the hands of his jailers, despite the public outcry and promises by authorities to end the abuse.