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“Everything Cannot Be Settled By Breaking in and Shooting”

24.01.2008
Irakli Batiashvili said that he was one of the first political prisoners of Mikheil Saakashvili’s government. He was accused for plotting against the constitutional government. He faced 24-year-imprisonment. The Prosecutor’s Office had single evidence against him; it was a secret recording of over-phone conversation. Irakli Batiashvili was pardoned after the presidential elections. However, he thinks that he was not pardoned because of government’s generosity, but because the society made the governmental officials to see their mistakes. He left the detention setting several days ago and the Human Rights Center represents the interview with him.  

Journalist: Now you can give the most appropriate assessment to on-going events. What do you think, what kind of situation was in our country before your detention and what kind of picture you have witnessed now?

Irakli Batiashvili: I think during this time serious changes have happened. During my imprisonment I could realize the reality more or less. A prisoner never realizes the situation adequately because isolation influences perception of the reality. Only printed media was sent to the detention setting; we could not watch TV. I learned about the current events in the country from my attorney and newspapers. When I was taken to the prison there we had TV and my scope of receiving the information increased.”

“I think many changes have taken place in the country. The most important event was November 7. It was a turning point in the history of Georgia. We have defeated the fear, civil activity increased and our government stepped back. In the past the authority acted absolutely deliberately without being judged; they could kill a person in the street. I am surprised how such a young people could be so cruel?”
 
“Now Saakashvili has not become generous, simply enormous resistance from the society has changed him. When the existence of his government was under suspicion, our society demonstrated great sense of civility and did not repeat the way of Saakashvili; people preferred to be patient and made the authority to surrender.”

J: Today, when you can analyze the entire situation, how do you think who was mostly interested in you detention?
 
I.B. Current government needed it; more precisely Saakashvili and his team needed to scare and threaten the society by detaining me. I was one of the first victims of political suppressions. It was evident that I was their target. I was controlled and watched all the time. You should remember I was often summoned to the Special Operative Department and other law enforcement bodies. I did not give any reason to suspect me for any crime. I am still surprised why they treated me like that. Finally they alleged my conversation with Emzar Kvitsiani as a reason. It was really very scandalous fact. They definitely wanted to get rid of me and isolate me from the society. I have information that they wanted event to kill me. God saved me from that and they preferred to arrest me. They hoped I would stay in prison for twenty years. They charged me under the Article 315. Patarkatsishvili is charged under that article now; however I was accused under the gravest part of that article-paragraph III that envisages the plotting against the constitutional government. This article foresees the imprisonment from 15 to 20 years. Afterwards they charged me under another article that envisaged additional four more years of imprisonment. The government seemed to hope to maintain their positions for a long time and wanted to get rid of me for ever. What is the difference between the death and the 24-year-imprisonmeent? They also aimed at scaring our society.

J: What kind of conditions were in the prison?

I.B. I was in a strict isolation. I was placed in the strict regime detention setting. It is situated within the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Criminal authorities and other serious criminals are serving their terms there.

Only four prisoners were placed in similar isolation; we were all alone. The aim was to prevent us from contacting with other prisoners. However, prisoners managed to get in touch with me. When I was taken out for a walk they were calling from the windows, they congratulated me with holidays and my birthday. I could speak with them only on similar occasions. They presented me with chandeliers or candles; they sent books too.

“I spent one year and a month in similar isolation. I am a believer and philosopher. I worked much; I wrote, read and it helped me to endure my situation. I was brave and worked on myself very hard. I had my own schedule and the day passed away very quickly. I got used to their food and when they took to my father’s funeral I could not eat proper food.

Initially I could not meet my wife for two months. Then I was allowed to meet her once a month. It was the biggest happiness for me. Once she managed to bring my child too.

Prisoners told me that before my placement in the prison every condemned was taken out from the camp; the security service department installed watching cameras and audio-recording apparatus in the detention setting.

“They did not want to place me in the prison with other condemned. They were afraid I could influence others too. The order was not given by the department. Each issue dealing with me was settled from the higher instances; Adeishvili, the Prosecutor General, and Bokeria, the leader of the majority in the parliament, made decisions about me. It was great relief for me to move to the prison. Although I could not enjoy the comfort of being alone in the cell, because there were a lot of people in the camp, it was perfect feeling to be with people. I could speak, joke and watch TV with them. I trained every morning. There is a church in the prison and I could pray there. Prisoners supported me very much. They parted with me with great respect. However, you must be careful in prison; the life style is different there.

J: Could you watch the events going on outside and did you expect everything would finish in similar way? What were the assessments about November 7 in the prison?

I. B. When I said in August that next autumn would be the most difficult for our country, everybody was surprised. I felt that everything would start from Okruashvili’s appearance on TV. I have twenty-year-experience in politics so I have intuition. But I could not predict the end. On April 9 1989 I endured the disaster myself; I felt that something terrible was going to happen but I could not expect our government could doom our population to similar disaster.

Prisoner feels pain more than free person. You cannot imagine how we felt in the detention setting on November 7. We felt terrible because they switched off our inner-phones. I know that all my relatives were outside in the demonstration. Although everybody was very nervous in the prison, the situation was calm in the establishment.

J: How do you think, what is the biggest mistake of the government that made people to go out into the street?

I. B. The biggest mistake of our government is that they came into the government. It is shameful that in the 21st century Georgia has similar authority. The government does not set limits to its activities. It is the government, during whose governance the Prime-Minster was assassinated. I am not blaming anyone for his death, but it is fact the Prime-Minister was killed for political reasons. The people went out into the street because of murdered young people: Girgvliani, Vazagashvili and Afrasidze; because of shooting prisoners in the detention settings. The people protested because their houses were destroyed and they were treated cynically by governmental officials. Our celebrities were called to be useless…

Poverty also made people to go out into the street. Extremely poor social conditions are also the result of current politics. When did Russia declare embargo on Georgia? We have never had good relationship with Russia but recently it became even tenser. Saakashvili sacrificed the interests of his country to his PR activities. Every citizen of our country was damaged.

There were poor social conditions during Shevardnadze’s governance too but it is worse now. People have lost their counters in the markets; people have lost their jobs during this government. Authority claims that they fight against the corruption. People were serving sentences for fifty and one hundred lari in prison. While a small group of high ranking officials have appropriated millions and billions of lari. 

However, first of all the people went out in the street because of injustice reigning in the country. 

J. How do you think, are there many political prisoners in Georgia? And who are they?

I. B. There are a lot of political prisoners in the country. Sulkhan Molashvili, who was also recently pardoned, was a political prisoner. Irakli Okruashvili is also a political prisoner. Davit Mirtskhulava, Maia Topuria, Vazha Adamia, Shalva Ramishvili... Ramishvili was challenged to commit a crime. They did not like TV Company “202”.  The same can be said about Temur Zhorzholiani, Zaza Davitaia, Vakhtang Talakhadze. They all are political prisoners. It does not make any difference whether we like their political belief or not.

Georgia should not have political prisoners. I hope non-governmental organizations will raise question more seriously. I wish nobody to be sent to Georgian detention settings. It is the most difficult experience. I wish nobody to have any connection with our court. It is terrible when you watch glass eyes of the judge when your case is discussed at the court hearing. I did not read the verdict at the Appeal Court. It was nonsense.

J: What should be done to subdue the current tension in the society?

I. B.  Opposition should not reject the offer to start a dialogue. Whatever attitude we have towards the government, the dialogue is the most important step. We must have one common axiom to start with. We need peace. I was a prisoner but I did not get selfish. I claimed that it was necessary to maintain the peace. Maybe it sounds too banal but we have endured such a disaster that peace is necessary. 

I am satisfied with the opposition for their dignity. They are conducting peaceful fight. If Saakashvili had 150 thousand people on the first day of the demonstration in 2003 he would have broken into the parliament immediately. Today our opposition acts very cleverly. I remember the day when our people were embarrassed about the Rose Revolution. I remember Saakashvili was leading the people to Tbilisi and these video-recording still exist. He claimed they could step over everybody who would have dared to resist the wave of people. Then they started to jump on the tables in the parliament….Opposition did not repeat the same; although it is much more difficult for them to go the similar way but we will not repeat similar mistakes. Everything cannot be settled by breaking in and shooting.

Nona Suvariani, Tbilisi

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