TBILISI Jan 13 Georgia freed 190 inmates
considered political prisoners by parliament on Sunday, under an
amnesty that has deepened a power struggle in the former Soviet
About 3,000 prisoners will eventually be released under the
amnesty approved in December by parliament, which has been
dominated by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's governing
coalition since an election on Oct. 1.
President Mikheil Saakashvili tried to block the amnesty
last month but parliament overturned his veto, increasing
strains between him and the new government and parliament.
"Today is a historic day. The persecution of those who were
arrested for political reasons is now over," Ucha Nanuashvili,
the parliament-appointed human rights ombudsman, said outside
Gldani prison No. 8 in the capital Tbilisi, where released
prisoners were greeted by joyful relatives and friends.
Saakashvili said he disagreed with parliament's decision to
define about 200 inmates as political prisoners and release them
under the amnesty law, along with others whom he described as
hardened criminals. He said on Saturday the amnesty could have
Prisoners eligible for release include those convicted of
high treason, taking part in military mutinies or spying for
Russia as well as robbery, fraud, theft, drug trafficking and
"They are releasing Russian spies ... and they are releasing
coup plotters," Saakashvili said.
The pro-Western Saakashvili accused Ivanishvili of being a
Russian stooge during the campaign for the parliamentary
election, in which his United National Movement lost its
majority to Ivanishvili's opposition coalition.
Ivanishvili, a billionaire who made much of his fortune in
Russia in the 1990s and was a stranger to the Georgian political
scene until 2011, became prime minister in late October.
Russian forces drove deep into Georgia in a five-day war in
2008, and the neighbouring former Soviet republics have not
reinstated diplomatic ties severed over the conflict.
Saakashvili, who was propelled to power in nonviolent street
protests in 2003 known as the Rose Revolution, is due to step
down after a presidential election in October in which he is
barred from running by term limits.
Saakashvili is widely credited with curbing petty corruption
and implementing liberal economic reforms.
But he has also cracked down on street protests against his
rule, drawing accusations from opponents that he was resorting
to authoritarian methods.
Critics have voiced concerns over what they call
heavy-handed tactics in Georgian jails under Saakashvili.
A video showing torture, beating and sexual assault of
inmates at Gldani prison was broadcast shortly before the
election, triggering protests that helped Ivanishvili win.
Since the election several former government officials have
been arrested and accused of abuse of power and other crimes.
The West has warned Ivanishvili not to conduct a witch-hunt
against officials loyal to Saakashvili.