190 Georgian 'political' prisoners walk free
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Nearly 200 people considered political prisoners by Georgia's new parliament walked free Sunday under an amnesty strongly opposed by President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Many of the 190 prisoners had been arrested during anti-Saakashvili protests in May 2011, while others had been convicted of trying to overthrow the government or of spying for Russia. Relations with Moscow were cut off after Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008.
"This was a great shame on the country, when Saakashvili had personal convicts," said the head of parliament's human rights committee, Eka Beselia, who greeted 70 prisoners released from Gldani Prison No. 8 in Tbilisi, the capital. "The new government fulfilled its obligations before these people who had suffered for so many years in prison."
More than 3,000 other prisoners who had their sentences reduced under the amnesty will be freed in the next two months.
Saakashvili's party, which dominated Georgian politics for nine years, lost control over parliament in an October election. The new majority party in parliament also won the right to form a new government and name the prime minister, who is now in a position to challenge Saakashvili for power.
Saakashvili warned of grave consequences following the release of what he described as criminals and Russian spies. He also scolded parliament for not using the convicted spies to trade for Georgians convicted of espionage in Russia. Four Russian citizens were among the prisoners released Sunday.
Freed prisoner Dzhemal Gundiashvili, a 51-year-old engineer and father of six, was arrested during the May 2011 protests, convicted of trying to overthrow the government and sentenced to three years in prison. He said Sunday that he was repeatedly beaten in prison and had his ribs broken.
"Many intend to continue the fight so that Saakashvili's regime is held responsible for its crimes — I am not afraid of this word — for its crimes against humanity," Gundiashvili said.
Videos of prisoners being beaten and sodomized in the Gldani Prison were broadcast shortly before the parliamentary election and fed popular anger against Saakashvili's government, which has been accused of turning a blind eye to widespread abuses in Georgia's prisons.