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Georgian government urged to end police abuse

Despite the storm force winds and heavy rain, Amnesty International members held a vigil outside the Embassy of Georgia in London on Tuesday. Representatives for the organization made it through the severe weather to call on the Georgian authorities to end impunity for police abuse. They also urged the Georgian government to introduce identification badges for all police, to safeguard against torture and ill-treatment. During the hour-long vigil, protestor Barrie Hay, Country Coordinator on the South Caucasus for Amnesty International’s UK section, wore camouflage and a mask to illustrate the anonymity the perpetrators of abuse have when allowed to fully disguise their identities. “I believe that the anonymity of police officers increases the risk of torture or other ill-treatment and perpetuates impunity,” said Barrie Hay. At the end of the vigil, he handed over a written appeal from the organization, as well as mock ID badges, to embassy staff. The action follows events in Georgia on 7 November 2007, when police were accused of using excessive force to disperse demonstrators calling for the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili. The mass demonstrations were also calling for parliamentary elections, changes to the election rules, and the release of a number of prisoners, whom they regarded as political prisoners. Police officers, many of whom were wearing masks, were said to have used truncheons, rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to break up three rallies in the capital, Tbilisi. Eye-witnesses reported that police beat and kicked scores of demonstrators, and were also said to have assaulted the Georgian Ombudsperson. According to official statistics, over 550 demonstrators and 34 police officers were hospitalized. The November events triggered calls by a number of international organizations and individual governments for the authorities to instigate effective investigations into allegations of excessive use of force. On 28 February 2008, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the authorities “to make public the process and the results of the internal investigation carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs as soon as possible, and to inform the public of any systemic failings in addition to the personal responsibility of any public officials involved”. However, the authorities have not done so to date. Amnesty International has also received numerous other complaints of police abuse in recent years, particularly when conducting arrests and dispersing demonstrations. Anna Sunder-Plassmann, Amnesty International's researcher on Georgia said that, “while 39 officers have been imprisoned for torture or other ill-treatment since Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in 2004, impunity persists amidst allegations that investigations are often not conducted adequately.” In numerous cases where police abuse has been alleged, police did not wear identification tags and officers of the special operative department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were, in addition, often masked.