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Shakro Zurashvili: They thought I died, an ambulance was called and they were told to take me to morgue

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The society learned about the unprecedented cruel treatment of prison inmates several years ago and brought the former government’s rule to an end. The world found out how cruel innocent people were treated just because the government had its personal goals against them and all of this was carried out in the name of freedom and democracy.

Although from time to time information was spread about the facts of torture in prison but somehow all turned a blind eye to it and the former president still remained the ‘beacon of democracy’ for the United States and the standard-bearer of the freedom and justice for the world community… As the former inmates say neither the perpetrators were punished after the change of government, nor the political prisoners were rehabilitated.

Moreover, it seems that a certain part of the public has been suffering from political amnesia since the National Movement received 27% of the votes in the recent parliamentary elections… In order not to forget the violence and lawlessness in our country in the recent past the “Georgia and the World” under the rubric ‘Without the Time of Limitation’ presents the interview with the former political prisoner Shakro Zurashvili, who on 26 May 2011, during the raid against the protesters’ demonstration, was driving the car of Nino Burjanadze. Despite the fact that he did not confess committing the offence he had been charged for and there were no sufficient evidences presented against him, Shakro Zurabashvili was accused of killing two police officers and was sentenced to12 years in prison.

I was arrested in the night of the demonstration,  I was already in Chubinashvili Street, when they came and took me from the yard to Digomi, the Main Division of Police, where I was severely beaten. Imagine, the whole yard was full of policemen and special forces and they all were beating me. They beat me with their feet, clubs,  gun butts, baseball bats. They treated me with extraordinary cruelty, they declared to everyone, that I was the man who killed innocent policemen and small children became orphans.  I lost sight as a result of so many beatings and could not see anything, just sometimes, when I was coming to my senses, I heard the sounds. I remember that when they thought I was not alive any more, they called an ambulance and the doctor said that hand amputation would be necessary as my hands were all black due to beating. As I learned later, two members of our party were on the sixth floor of that building and when I was brought there, they thought I was already dead.

They thought I died. Ambulance was called and they were told to take me to morgue, but because I was alive, I was taken to the Chapidze clinic by the emergency doctor. On May 26, I was taken to the hospital at half past five AM and I came to my senses only at 2:00 PM.As soon as I opened my eyes, they took me to Digomi again, to the Police Main Division. 

AT the police department they made me continuously watch TV where they announced that I killed two police officers –Vladimer Mansurashvili and Nodar Tskhadaze. When I said that there was a misunderstanding, I had not killed anyone, never mentioned, a police officer hit the phone cable on my head, asking me whether I was not feeling bad when I was killing a man. I insisted that on TV they showed the motor vehicle make ML jeep and my motor vehicle was Toyota Prado. After that they changed the charge and stated that I had not killed anyone, but I had run over a fallen police officer, Levan Ninoshvili (an officer at the Vake district Special Operative Department) with my car. This was an absurd as well. After that they added to my charge the crime punishable by Article 353 and accused me of resisting police, they forged my signature – as if I had received the police notice at home and signed it. 

They had some video of that night recorded by someone using his phone, on the basis of which they insisted that I was guilty. My lawyer took that video to the Levan Samkharauli National Forensics Bureau. According to the expert’s opinion, the fact of collision of the motor vehicles of Nino Burjanadze’s motorcade with anyone or anything was excluded.

Now it would not be good for them to release me, as I had been cruelly beaten. As a result of beating I was all black, I had no teeth any more, I had amnesia, contusion. In addition, they were afraid of Mrs. Nino Burjanadze. They knew that she would show those images to the world. As a result, as I have already mentioned above, a month later they aggravated my charge and although they had no evidences against me, I was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment.

Did the families of the killed policemen contact you?

Yes, they did, the sister and the brother-in-law of the deceased policeman -Vladimer Mansurashvili came to the office of our party, Mrs. Nino offered them that she would investigate everything and determine who the murderer of their brother was. But they refused as they had been receiving threats and were afraid that something worse could happen. They knew what had really happened. 

Do you think that those police officers did not die there and their bodies were brought there later?

Yes, I think so. The previous night Mansurashvili had said in his house that he knew something he was not supposed to know and he knew that they would kill him, they would not pity him.

What was the situation in prison when you were taken to there?

The situation in prison was very tense; I don’t think that there is a similar situation in any prison around the world.  They dod not need any reason to beat a prisoner. For example, the jail keeper would look in, see that you are sitting and begin argument – why are you sitting or why are you talking – and because of it he could beat you cruelly. Or they would open the door and order – come out, then they would start argument saying that you came out very slowly and they would begin beating you.

Special suppression was used against the prisoners who refused to plea of guilty. True, they did not beat met in prison any more, but there was a terrible psychological pressure against me. Sometimes they  would beat all inmates of the cell because of me to cause hostile attitude of the prisoners against me.   The prosecutor of my case directly told me to say that Anzor Bitsadze was driving the car that night. But Anzor Bitsadze was not in my car at all at that time. The prosecutor told me that if I stated that, they would arrange everything. If I refused to accuse Anzor Bitsadze, they threatened to arrest my children. I have two sons: one of them was a student and the other was in the 11th form at school. They told me that they would arrange to arrest them for possession of firearms and drugs. My daughter, who worked at the National Bureau of Enforcement, was fired from work because of me. Nika Melia, who pretends no to be an ‘angel’, was the head of the National Bureau of Enforcement and he himself fired my daughter from work. I understand that it was not his will, he was given a task, but he fulfilled that illegal and shameful task perfectly.

When I refused to accuse Anzor Bitsadze, for two weeks they tortured somebody, beat and reviled calling my family name so to make me think that they had caught my son and were torturing him.

When one of the inmates started a hunger strike he was taken to the bathroom and made to eat soap somebody had used and left on the floor. Everything could happen there – torture, beating, rape of the inmates. Many of them could not endure it. From the window of our cell we could see the prison hospital. The inmates called the day of dissolution of quarantine a Good Friday as they used to beat the prisoners cruelly. In such case at least 7-8 blooded inmates were taken into the hospital on stretchers and about 3-4 dead would be taken out at night…

What was the reason of such cruelty?

They wanted to spread fear among people. There were families, relatives, friends behind each prisoner and they were to know what would happen to him/her in case of resistance against the will of the government.

Your spine was injured, for a long time you were unable to move without crutches, have you been paid any compensation?

I have not received any compensation. I am waiting for the decision of the Strasbourg Court. Due to the fact that the case is being examined by the Strasbourg Court and some questions have been arisen towards the state, I was offered 6 thousand EURO from the Ministry of Justice of Georgia to withdraw the complaint. The offer was accompanied by threat and ultimatum as well, they told me to take that money otherwise they would not give it to me when the court made the decision. Later they offered me 5 thousand EURO and then, about two months ago, they promised to pay 15 thousand EURO and recognize me as the victim of torture if I agreed to withdrow the complaint. 

Did you refuse to that offer too?

Yes, I did, as it is a gibe. This sum is not enough for the operation of my spine. The fifth vertebra of my spin is damaged; my leg keeps becoming rigid time after time, I have received lots of injuries. This sum shall not compensate those twenty months I spent in prison unjustly. They took away my car worth 45 thousand USD and have not returned yet. True, that car was registered on the name of Badri Bitsadze, but they seized it as an instrument of crime and they have not returned it yet.

When I was in prison they demanded money from me, they told me to bring 45 thousand EURO for the treatment of Ninoshvili, the officer of the Special Operative Department who, according to their statement, I ran over with the car. Otherwise they threatened to sell my flat but as I was living in a rented flat, they left me alone.

When I was called to the Office of the Prosecutor first after being released, I learned that the prosecutor of my case Prokopi Chankvetadze was still on his position. I stated at the Prosecutor’s Office that I was not looking for him or his address but if I met him by chance in that building, I could not give the guarantee to leave him alive and then they could arrest me again.

As it turn out, the prosecutor of my case, the man who threatened to arrest my children, who was the author of that contrivance against me and thanks to him I had been sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment, is still working at the Prosecutor’s Office and feels himself fine. However, I have submitted three complaints but there has been no response from the Prosecutor’s Office.

Interviewed by Shorena Tsivkarashvili

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