When a dismal and sensational video hits the Internet, you know it is election time in Georgia. A YouTube video showing the corpse of the late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania has rocked the country ahead of local elections this June, and raised questions about the government's involvement in its release.
Zhvania and a young regional official, Raul Usupov, were found dead on February 3, 2005 in a rented Tbilisi apartment; the official cause of death was carbon-monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas heater, but has been widely disputed.
The ruling Georgian Dream coalition has long made ample promise to shed light on the deaths of both men, yet, so far, has unearthed little new information.
The leaked video offers more shock-value than conclusive evidence. (Warning: Some viewers may find the scenes disturbing.)
The identity of the YouTube user who posted it is unknown, but generally suspected to be somehow linked with the government. A former chief prosecutor told Georgian media that the footage had been kept in a safe under lock and key in his office.
Like a teaser from some sinister TV series, the video opens with a close-up of Zhvania’s lifeless face. After a relay of photos from the autopsy, the video shows Usupov lying lifeless on the apartment floor.
For viewers’ convenience, the anonymous YouTube user has highlighted suspicious marks on the dead bodies, which could be anything from bruises to Photoshop. The photos do not eliminate any existing explanations for Zhvania’s death or validate the YouTube user’s claim that “[President Mikheil] Saakashvili killed Zhvania.”
Blaming the Georgian government for indulging in political funny business, Saakashvili, as yet, as refused to come to Tbilisi for questioning in connection with Zhvania's death and "other matters" supposedly of interest to prosecutors.
He has lambasted officials for allegedly publicising disturbing footage for political gain; a practice not entirely alien to the Saakashvili administration's own years in office, it must be noted.
Yet the ex-president as a video-target is, perhaps, all too predictable. The Georgian Dream in 2012 unseated Saakashvili's United National Movement from control of parliament largely thanks to publicized videos of abuse in prisons.
More recently, after the coalition faced criticism over the treatment of jailed ex-Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, a video came online showing Merabishvili asking for "two corpses" during an alleged military mutiny.
And now comes a video with two corpses.
Yet prosecutors and police have batted their eyes when asked about the provenance of both the Zhvania and Merabishvili clips.
Arrests, however, have begun.
In connection with the late prime minister's death, a Tbilisi court on March 23, however, put former chief forensic pathologist, Levan Chachua, who performed Zhvania's autospy,and Mikheil Dzadzamia, a former supervising bodyguard for Zhvania , under pre-trial arrest for alleged neglect of official duties.
Chachua was blamed for allegedly not listing in his autopsy-report injuries Zhvania supposedly received before his death; Dzadzamia for having allegedly left the prime minister without protection on the night of his death.