- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

The good news is that the former Soviet Republic of Georgia — which in 2003 underwent “The Rose Revolution,” sweeping U.S.-backed so-called reformer Mikail Saakashvili to power — has just spent $65 million on a new airport in the capital city of Tiblisi. The bad news is it’s full of holes.

A heavy rainfall the other night proved too much for the roof, which promptly started leaking. Buckets had to be placed on the new floor to catch the drip, drip dripping. A fitting metaphor for Mr. Saakashvili’s flimsy government which now is showing severe signs of distress.

More crucial than water damage is the unimaginable Kafkaesque plight of 15,000 prisoners rotting in filthy, overcrowded Georgian jails. At the same time Mr. Saakashvili was hailing a significant decline in the country’s crime rate, a report by Human Rights Watch pinpointed Georgia as Ground Zero for inhuman treatment of those incarcerated, many of them simply political opponents of the president.

The conditions are so grotesque it is impossible to fathom them in a modern world. Prisoners are so crammed together they must take turns sleeping. Cells are dirty and poorly ventilated. There is no food or water. Prisoners must relieve themselves on cinder block floors and are regularly and cruelly subjected to severe beatings, and other ill-treatment, according to the 101-page report.

Since 2005, the prison population in Georgia has nearly doubled. (Crime rates are down.) Nearly two-thirds of these prisoners have not even been granted a trial. “The Georgian government portrays itself as fully committed to human rights and has repeatedly promised to address the ghastly conditions in its prison system,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “But instead of fulfilling these promises, the authorities have taken deliberate steps to restrict fundamental rights, including the rights of those in detention.”

My husband, a respected journalist and outspoken critic of President Saakashvili, recently spent several weeks in a Tiblisi jail, charged with the vague crime of “hooliganism.” He was lucky to get out alive.

Last year, in Prison No. 5, guards murdered at least seven detainees. Prisoners are not allowed to see lawyers. They are given no medical care. They are treated as animals in cages, in defiance of international law, guarded over by sadists, holdovers from the communist days and Mr. Saakashvili’s corrupt, eager young henchmen.

Arrest squads roam the streets of Tiblisi, and from 2005-2006, 73 of such special operations were conducted and as a result, there were 25 fatalities. One-third of all “investigations” end with a suspect being killed.

The use of lethal force in Georgia by authorities is rampant. The Georgian police are gun-happy and their killings are on the rise. According to official data, by 2006 out of 25 violent incidents only four were investigated for use of excessive force. Not one single policeman was held accountable, a chilling statistic.

In January 2006, Sandro Girgvliani, 28 years old and not exactly a household name for Americans, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by a “death brigade” because he was said to have flirted at a bar with the wife of the Interior Ministry’s chief.

Mr. Saakashvili’s totalitarian government — backed by U.S. aid — has fostered a sense of superiority among law enforcement officials, (no doubt to shore up his battle against “crime”) but has left its law-abiding citizens cringing with fear and loathing.

Wire-tapping is common, although authorities need little or no proof to arrest anyone. No wonder so many of the best and the brightest have fled Georgia, a country they love and cherish.

Since 2003, the Georgian Constitution has been shredded; all independent powers of legislative and judicial branches have been taken away. Prime Minister Zurab Jhvania, mysteriously died. Property rights have been violated. Freedom of speech has been severely restricted. Journalists have been beaten and arrested.

Mr. Saakashvili told the Wall Street Journal that one of his heroes is Yugoslavian dictator Josef Broz Tito.

It is time for Americans to recognize that hard-earned tax dollars are going to Georgia as international aid efforts. The only problem is, it’s full of holes. That’s your money drip, drip, dripping away.

Anna Dolidze is a former chairwoman and current board member of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association. She holds a master’s degree in international law from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands and lives with her husband in New York.


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