09TBILISI792, GEORGIA: OPPOSITION ENCOURAGES WOMEN PRISON RIOT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI792 2009-04-24 12:03 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO8229
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0792/01 1141203
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 241203Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1433
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000792 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/23/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: OPPOSITION ENCOURAGES WOMEN PRISON RIOT 
OVER EASTER 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D) 
 
1. (C) Summary: Over Orthodox Easter night, April 18-19, 
approximately 600 women prisoners rioted in Tbilisi's Women's 
Prison Number Five.  They reportedly were upset that they 
were not granted pardons as part of a general Government 
pardon of 400 other prisoners throughout the country. 
Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance (MCLA) Dimitry 
Shashkin briefed the diplomatic corps in a private meeting on 
April 22.  There, he presented a video and an alternative 
version of the events than the one contained in his factual 
official statement released to the media.  Shashkin said that 
for approximately 12 hours, he and several opposition MPs, 
plus Public Defender Sozar Subari tried to negotiate with the 
prisoners to end the riot.  When it was clear the inmates 
would not end their activities and the situation became 
increasingly dangerous, Shashkin made the decision for his 
MCLA riot police to breach the prison wall and end the riot. 
He said that the 600 inmates quickly surrendered and were 
transferred to Rustavi Prison Number One.  He said no 
prisoners were injured during the operation.  At the end of 
his briefing, Shashkin told the assembled diplomats that some 
radical opposition leaders were coordinating and directing 
the prisoners' activities ia cellphone from outside the 
prison.  Shashkin said the GOG has decided not to publicly 
tie the protests to the political situation for now, saying 
it "would not be helpful."  End summary. 
 
WOMEN PRISONERS RIOT EASTER NIGHT 
 
2.  (U) Inmates in Tbilisi Women's Prison Number Five (which 
also houses juveniles), allegedly unhappy not to be among 
those who President Saakashvili pardoned prior to Orthodox 
Easter, began rioting in protest on April 18 at around 1600. 
After 12 hours of rioting, penitentiary officials decided to 
transfer large numbers of inmates to other prisons to stem 
the unrest.  The women's prison, which houses about 700 
inmates, suffered heavy damage during the rioting, including 
broken windows and furniture.  According to Shashkin and the 
MCLA's official statement (emailed to EUR/CARC and DRL), no 
one was injured during the riot or during the subsequent 
transfer. 
 
3. (U) The riot started on Saturday afternoon April 18 as 
prisoners demanded pardons for all inmates.  President 
Saakashvili pardoned 400 inmates throughout the country prior 
to Easter, but only 23 inmates in the Tbilisi women's prison 
received pardons or reduced sentences.  Minister Shashkin 
told journalists outside the prison that the inmates' demand 
to have all 700 inmates pardoned was "unrealistic."  Echoing 
his remarks, Georgian Public Defender Sozar Subari, who was 
also on the scene monitoring the situation, said the 
pardoning of all 700 inmates was "unrealistic and impossible 
to fulfill."  Subari added that those convicted of petty 
crimes or those with questionable verdicts, could be reviewed 
for pardoning in the future.  Representatives from the Public 
Defender's office did not report any instances of the use of 
excessive force against inmates during the riot or transfer. 
 
4. (U) In 2008, inmates in this same prison began a hunger 
strike in protest of what they alleged was Saakashvili's 
"unfair amnesty/pardoning" practices.  An OSCE Human Rights 
Officer who had access to the prison at the time, portrayed 
the inmates' hunger strike as haphazard at best.  The hunger 
strike ended after a public call from the Patriarch. 
 
SHASHKIN BELIEVES OPPOSITION PLANNED RIOT 
 
5. (C) In his April 22 briefing for the diplomatic community, 
Q5. (C) In his April 22 briefing for the diplomatic community, 
Shashkin claimed the riot was planned and organized by 
opposition leaders to fall on Easter night.  As evidence, 
Shashkin said he had taken the 23 pardoned inmates to meet 
with Patriarch Ilia II when he learned of the riot beginning 
at 16:25.  Within five minutes, he arrived at the prison, and 
said opposition leaders were already on the scene.  At that 
time, the presidential pardons had not yet been publicized, 
so he believes the inmates had prior orders on when to start 
rioting.  He said that once the inmate leaders (approximately 
50-60 women) initiated the riot, they took 16 prison guards' 
cellphones.  Shashkin said police intercepts of the guards' 
phones revealed the prisoners were talking to several 
opposition leaders who were standing outside the prison 
walls, including Salome Zourabichvili and opposition NGO 
leader Nana Kakabadze.  Shashkin said the opposition leaders 
were encouraging the rioting inmates and directing them to 
try and engage police and prison guards in a fight, which the 
opposition would portray as government oppression.  Rioting 
inmates were shouting "Misha Go!" and had demanded a blanket 
amnesty for all. 
 
 
TBILISI 00000792  002 OF 002 
 
 
6. (C) Shashkin noted that Subari and opposition MPs tried 
throughout the night to negotiate with the rioters and stop 
the violence.  One am
bassador questioned whether it was clear 
that the opposition had planned the riots, or just exploited 
them.  Shashkin believes the former.  As further evidence, at 
0425 on the morning of April 19, the inmates demanded a 
meeting with EU Special Representative Peter Semneby, in a 
written statement with his name and title spelled exactly 
correct, along with other GOG officials.  By this time, 
Shashkin had already determined the threat to some of the 
inmates (including those who had children, and those who were 
sick or pregnant) was too grave and the situation needed to 
be brought under control.  He ordered his 118-man MCLA riot 
police team to breach a rear wall of the prison, where they 
would not come in contact with the protesters at the main 
gate.  The 600 inmates quickly surrendered and were 
transferred without incident to the recently-opened Rustavi 
Prison Number One.  Subari and other officials acknowledged 
that no inmates were injured during the operation and 
transfer.  Several inmates were threatened by the rioters 
during the night, and one young child had been dangled from 
an upper-floor as a threat to the authorities.  50 inmates 
who have children or were sick, and did not participate in 
the riots, remain at the prison. 
 
GOVERNMENT KEEPS DOOR OPEN FOR OPPOSITION 
 
6. (C) On the broader theme of how the riot relates to 
ongoing opposition protests, Shashkin said he does meet with 
opposition members occasionally.  He said some have financial 
interests, and others continually change their plans.  He 
said that President Saakashvili will not leave, nor will the 
GOG pay any bribes for opposition members to quit protesting. 
 Shashkin said the only way he sees as a way forward for the 
country, is to go through this "dead-end process" and then 
Georgian society must move forward with dialogue and reforms. 
 Shashkin said the GOG has presented a real proposal for a 
constitutional commission to convene this coming summer, but 
that without opposition participation, it will not be 
considered valid.  Shashkin said the government "must leave 
the door open for the opposition" to have a way out. 
 
COMMENT 
 
7. (C) Shashkin's charge that the opposition exploited the 
riots appears valid, but we do not have enough information to 
assess whether the opposition planned the riots or not. 
However, it is certainly plausible given the timing and 
rioters' demands.  The video and Subari's statements support 
the sequence of events laid out by Shashkin. 
TEFFT

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