President Mikheil Saakashvili addressed the scandal in a 21 September speech marking the opening of Tbilisi’s Justice House (or Public Service Hall, which consolidates the offices of certain government agencies for citizens’ convenience). He accused those behind the video of waiting until election time to make it public, so that people would go to the polls and make “impulsive decisions” while in a “state of shock,” instead of thinking about what he claimed had changed for the better [under UNM leadership]. With their “Russian money and methods,” those responsible were hoping to use the elections to return Georgia to the past and “Russian imperial space,” said the president. Saakashvili also stated that, had Public Defender Tughushi been told about these crimes, the guilty “would have been punished the very first day and this would have ended.” In the critical Kviris Palitra (KP), Khatuna Paichadze rejected authorities’ claims of ignorance. Over several years, she said, “prisoners provided journalists, representatives from the Public Defender’s office, and NGOs evidence of their beatings, torture, and abasement of their dignity, but not one case was investigated.” Officials such as Kalmakhelidze “asserted that everything the press said was made up.” In a brief piece aptly entitled, “We wrote about this earlier, too,” KP editors provided links to the weekly’s reports on such abuse from the last few years.
Along with international human rights organizations, the Georgian people were outraged by the news, and the last week saw many large protests throughout the country. GHN reported that some youths were holding a hunger strike outside the new Justice House in Tbilisi, with one of them telling the press, “I don’t want my children to live in concentration camps and be afraid.” According to pro-government daily 24 Saati, students in Tbilisi held a series of demonstrations in front of the general prosecutor’s office, the Justice Ministry, the presidential palace, staff offices of ruling party election candidates, and Gldani prison. The daily said protestors demanded that anyone involved in the abuse be held accountable, as they called for an end to the violence across the country: “The regime of Saakashvili, [Prime Minister Vano] Merabishvili, and [Justice Minister Zurab] Adeishvili must end.” The author also noted that participants were determined not to let any political party use their demonstrations as a platform. At a major rally in the Western town of Zugdidi, opposition Georgian Dream coalition leader, and main Saakashvili rival, Bidzina Ivanishvili said, “Instead of light and roads, Saakashvili has brought torture and the rape of Georgian men. ... The democratic West will now finally see what Saakashvili, the beacon of democracy, represents.”
Adding to the tension and uncertainty, Pirweli.com.ge reported that “a ship loaded with rubber bullets and night sticks has arrived in Poti port” and that dock workers had been warned not to speak to anyone about the cargo they were unloading. At the same time, GHN relayed that a UNM member in the western town of Khobi and a member of the special forces patrol police in Tbilisi had both resigned and joined Ivanishvili’s coalition. The latter explained that “I didn’t want to be part of attacking any people protesting against this sadism.”