Sexual abuse and secretly recorded sex videos have been a disturbing component of Georgian politics recently. Last October's flip-flop of power from President Saakashvili to Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili was preceded by the leak of footage of the physical and sexual abuse of prison inmates. Now, a fresh scandal centers around sex videos of various government critics allegedly recorded under the auspices of former officials loyal to President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Law enforcement agencies claim that they have inherited a supply of compromising videos supposedly meant to blackmail political dissidents and potential defectors under previous ministers loyal to Saakashvili. Georgian police on June 17 announced that they had found an addition to this supposed collection -- an underground cache of sexual violence and torture videos, along with explosives and ammunition, in the western part of the country.
Some videos allegedly depict sexual violence in places of detention; others are secret recordings of citizens’ private lives, which includes a subcategory of the homosexual affairs of socially prominent men. In socially conservative Georgia, the public tends to condemn displays of sexual behavior, while homosexuals and supporters of LGBT rights can face violence.
The Georgian-Dream-led government, eager to investigate alleged wrongdoing linked to the pro-Saakashvili camp, has vowed to stomp out this videotaping practice, a holdover from the Soviet past, but the release of teasers from the archive has not quelled misgivings about officials' real intentions.
After one Tbilisi-based reporter stepped on the toes of several interior ministry officials, a video depicting him having sex with another man and a woman appeared online last month. The interior ministry fired the officials allegedly involved, but the archive still exists.
Earlier on, to back up their claims of the misconduct of previous government officials, the interior ministry released blurred samples from secretly recorded gay sex videos.
Civil rights activists are putting pressure on the prime minister to destroy the archive. Initially, Ivanishvili said that he would. But later, it was announced that the archive is needed for ongoing investigations of alleged abuse of power by ex-officials. Ivanishvili instead offered to tighten access to the video files for now.
Deputy Interior Minister Levan Izoria told RFE/RL that the government plans to offer an amnesty from criminal prosecution in exchange for surrendering any such recordings. A commission of government representatives and civil society members would oversee destruction of the recordings, he said.
But whether that will reassure Georgians remains to be seen. Recent experiences mean that many will remain on tenterhooks, particularly in an election year.