-Just one of many horror stories - Georgian Penitentiary System
“Sadistic wolves guarding the sheep” – it continues!!!
As told by William Van Der Weide, Citizen of Netherlands
This year, on July 7, Giorgi Keburia, 30, my business partner and friend, was arrested due to some previous business dealings. He is now in provisional custody (pre-trial detention). He is being held in Gldani prison number 7, and people have not been permitted to visit him. Neither have his lawyers been allowed to find out on which grounds he has been incarcerated. No trial has yet been held or scheduled. Not surprisingly, this being Georgia, neither his family members nor his attorneys have been able to talk about the case, out of fear.
It is unclear to us why Giorgi was really arrested in the first place. Even the Ambassador of Netherlands, Shota Gvineria, who met with him before he was imprisoned, is refusing to talk about the case. He thinks the charge is fabricated, and it would be dangerous for him to get involved. Giorgi asked for a Bible, but his lawyer was not allowed to supply him one. He later writes to my contact that - you might have been confused regarding my position and functions, therefore let me clarify for you (a) I am a diplomat (b) I am NOT a prosecutor or judge and (c) I can NOT influence any legal or illegal procedures in Georgia.
On October 4, at 5:30, I went to the prison building and presented my passport. I said I was a Jehovah’s Witness and asked them to let me see my partner Giorgi Keburia. I was allowed to go in without any complications. The meeting was, of course, very emotional. I noticed he had lost a lot of weight and he started telling me what he had had to endure from the moment he was first taken to the prison.
I could never have imagined that in Georgian society people would act like wild animals, but as I now know policemen use violence and torture and do other horrible things to people as soon as they seize them. I met with Giorgi in room number 2, which was well-equipped with surveillance cameras and microphones (bugs). We talked for 45 minutes and I was astonished at the power of his faith; I was very impressed by it. They hadn’t broken him, even after three months of constant torture, and he wasn’t worried only about himself but about me too. I wanted to cry. But I managed to hold back my tears until after I had left the prison. This man had been praying from the very first day of his imprisonment, using the prison Bible no one else was reading, and he was showing those guards who was who.
I tried to visit Giorgi again the next day with a few of my friends. One of them is an American citizen, journalist and human rights defender. The day before I had promised Giorgi that I would visit him and do my best to help him get out of that filthy place, but the prison guards wouldn’t give us permission to see him this time. They kept coming up with different reasons for keeping us out. First they said journalists and human rights activists weren’t allowed to see prisoners (they explained that according to legislation only next of kin had the right to visit prisoners and that we could read the legislation only on the web-page; this is a violation of human rights.
When my friend demanded to be let in, as a journalist and human right protector, he was refused and accused of being a provocateur. We were mocked; they called the human rights centre to check whether he had actually been sent by someone from there or not. They were checking our connections. This clearly shows that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and 'human rights organizations’ active in Georgia are actually working together, they have their informers everywhere.
After all this they said that it was already too late, and visiting hours had ended at 18:00. However this was clearly a lie, as I entered at 17:45 the day before. So they created a new obstacle, and told us that yesterday they had made an exception and now they had to follow the rules; they said we had to ask permission from the prison department at 83 Gorgasali Street. Then we wondered why they had let me in the previous day - was it because I was holding a Bible and Jehovah’s Witness literature?
I’m writing about my impressions, about what I have seen over the last few days, about what my friend Giorgi Keburia has had to endure. The one thing which astonished me in this prison was not the newly constructed building but the personal strength and fortitude of my friend, who was locked in complete moral darkness in his prison cell. I was also surprised that in every corridor I could see religious symbols, and priests dressed in black - how come these clerics had never brought the horrifying stories of this prison to the outside world? This hasn't happened because the whole system is shrouded in darkness. The stories have become public only after the notorious recent videos were broadcast by different TV channels. Even though everyone knew about these terrible things, prisoners, their families, human rights activists, nobody, has dared to talk about them openly out of fear for their own lives or the safety of their loved ones.
I also saw a modern design award displayed in the prison hall. The sign said that this distinguished prison satisfies all European standards. According to Giorgi Keburia, 85 prison employees still working there have been personally involved in prisoner torture and yet still hold on to their posts and offices. But you can now read all about the torture methods used on Keburia, or learn about them from Giorgi and his cellmates in person – they are no longer afraid to tell the truth.
I have lived in Georgia for several years, but now see that ‘democracy’ is not real here. Georgian democracy resembles the false democracy of Mickey Mouse. The greatest value of Christianity is love and compassion, but apparently, as the prison example shows, the highest values in Georgia include the bludgeon, the broom and “very bad words”.
Giorgi was beaten by a welcoming committee 20 guards the moment he entered the prison, they should have been explaining to him his rights. When a prisoner is taken into custody the first thing which must be done is to read him his rights and explain prison rules and regulations to him – this is standard practice everywhere. However, in this place prisoners are beaten half to death, insulted, humiliated and told that they will never walk out of there alive. Giorgi was also threatened he’d never leave the prison alive. After the first time they beat him Giorgi couldn’t walk or even get out of bed for 3 days. For 7 days they wouldn’t allow him to take a shower or change clothes, which was one more way of torturing him.
Giorgi stands alone against 100 representatives of the prison administration. They have tormented him as if they were wild animals. In the end, as I was leaving room 2, he told me: “Will, we are brothers and we have a father who loves us. The name of our father is Jehovah and everyone knows his name in this prison now. The people who did this will answer before him, especially those who ordered this (including President Misha Saakashvili). God sees everything.”
They will answer to God for the sufferings of my friend. The crimes these prisoners have committed are nothing in comparison to what the prison guards and other employees are committing against them. How can they go home after this and look their children or family members in the eye? Personally I am shocked by all that has happened.
The most disturbing aspect of this, explained my American friend, is that Guram Donadze, the Gldani prison warden (former head of the press centre of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and director of REAL TV, who also has close connections with Bacho Akhalaia and Tako Salakhaia), has been appointed to reform the prison. This man was allegedly involved in the brutal murder and torture of Sandro Girgvliani. This is a case of wolves guarding sheep. This kind of person shouldn’t be allowed to occupy such a responsible position, said my American friend.
Three months after Giorgi Keburia’s arrest the question of why he has been held in prison for so long is still unanswered. This is the story of Mickey Mouse, not democracy. My Georgian partner and friend still do not know for sure why he was actually taken into custody. He hasn’t been formally charged with a crime. He has been imprisoned, it seems, only on the grounds of a single complaint someone once filed, which no one has ever investigated.
Written after visiting the Gladni Prison number 7.
Described by William Van Der Weide, citizen of Netherlands, and transcribed and edited by Jeffrey Silverman, journalist, human rights advocate, Maya Tavartkiladze translator
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