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Former ministers summoned for questioning

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, August 19
Two former ministers of the prison system, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze and Dimitri Shashkin, have been summoned for interrogation to the Prosecutor’s Office. Kalmakhelidze was questioned, while Shashkin is not in Georgia at the present moment. However, according to his interview with Rustavi 2 TV, he intends to cooperate with the investigation.

According to the statement released by the Prosecutor’s Office, the body launched the investigation over the facts of negligence committed by the former state officials. The prosecutor’s office claims that the former ministers are only being summoned as “witnesses” at this time.

“It has been revealed that for years, abuse, torture and the inhumane treatment of inmates was taking place systematically in almost all Georgian prisons… For years these cases were not addressed despite the fact that information concerning these cases was regularly reflected in the reports made by the Georgian Public Defender, as well as in reports represented by the local and international human rights groups,” the chief prosecutor’s office states.

Kalmakhelidze stated that after the interrogation she is personally interested in the investigation of facts related to the prisoners’ torture.

“I had been trying my best to change the situation in the system. 24 hour appointments and some other positive changes were carried out in the prisons under my leadership. The system was absolutely sick and I was trying to make it closer to human standards. Unfortunately, my efforts were not enough,” Kalmakhelidze stated.

Shashkin told Rustavi 2 TV on Friday that he’s not in Georgia at the present moment and would be back in the country on August 28. He emphasized that he would answer all the questions in connection to his tenure as minister of the penitentiary system.

Member of the parliamentary majority, Levan Berdzenishvili, thinks that that the crime in penitentiary institutions would not have become systemic without the ministers’ encouragement.

According to him there are two versions concerning the prisoner torture: First that the wrongdoings had been carried out through the leadership of the ministers and the second that the ministers had no conscience over the issues and were disabled in their obligations.

“Both situations can be taken as a crime, but of different types,” Berdzenishvili said.

The former government could not see the crime of the former ministers. Members of the United National Movement are waiting for the outcome of the investigation. According to party representatives, they are also interested in the fair and transparent investigation of the horrible cases taking place at the penitentiary institutions.

Shashkin was the minister of the penitentiary system from February to December, 2009 and Kalmakhelidze replaced him from December 2009 until September, 2012 when she had to resign after the prison abuse videos emerged just before the parliamentary elections of 2012.

The prosecutor’s office stated that Bacho Akhalai, who chaired the penitentiary system from December, 2005 until December of 2008, would also be interrogated by the body. Akhalaia is in pretrial detention currently pending court verdict regarding unrelated criminal charges.