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20 May, 2009 08:32

Are protesters tortured in Georgia?

Human rights activists say that practically every detainee among opposition protesters in Georgia has been injured or tortured.

With mass anti-government protests entering their second month, reports of people being detained without trial are growing too, amid claims that the authorities are getting increasingly desperate to find someone to blame.

“My client was tortured by law enforcement bodies,” said Mamuka Nozadze, the lawyer of a detainee Nugzar Otanadze.

“They beat him to try to make him testify that he was involved in some unreal plot. But they have no evidence, just a telephone conversation between my client and one of his relatives.”

Nugzar has been locked up for 48 hours on charges which, his family says, are trumped up by the police.

The last time his wife, Natia, saw him was when he was dragged from their bed at midnight by officers who broke down the front door. Now she fears the worst:

“I’m so afraid he’ll be tortured. I’ve been told his arm is broken, and I’m scared of what else they’ll do to him. I don’t trust this government. They can beat and kill people for no reason. I’m afraid to let my children out of the house now.”

Natia is convinced her husband was taken for questioning because he’s the brother of one of the alleged organizers of an attempted mutiny at a military base near Tbilisi earlier this month. As many as 500 troops were involved in the rebellion that the Georgian government says was aimed at overthrowing President Mikhail Saakashvilli.

Nugzar’s lawyer is the only person to have gone to see him. He says his client’s arm is broken, there are bruises on his face and body, and he has trouble walking.

So the family’s fears seem to be realized, and it’s a claim backed up by the country’s ombudsman. In the first public confirmation that police brutality is on the rise in Georgia, Sozar Subari says virtually no detainee has escaped being injured.

“I deeply regret that after some positive changes, the number of torture cases has increased dramatically since the beginning of the protest rallies a month ago. What we’re seeing now is that every single person recently detained by law enforcement bodies is being beaten and tortured. It’s absolutely unacceptable, and these reports must be investigated.”

Among the other cases to come to light is the arrest of military expert Vakhtang Masaya, who was detained and accused of spying for Russia during last year’s South Ossetian conflict.

And Irakli Batkuashvili, who served as Head of the combat training directorate at the Georgian Ministry of Defense, has been charged with disclosing state secrets. Both are awaiting trial, raising fears that the governments will stop at nothing.