Georgia ex-minister Akhalaia faces torture charges

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Bacho Akhalaia (centre) says he is a victim of political persecution

Georgia ex-Defence Minister Bacho Akhalaia has been charged with torture of army personnel by the country's new authorities.

The charges relate to an incident in February 2010, when Mr Akhalaia allegedly ordered 17 servicemen to be locked up and abused.

Mr Akhalaia, 32, says the charges are politically motivated.

He was an ally of President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose party lost a parliamentary election last month.

Mr Saakashvili has said politicians from his administration are now being persecuted by the new authorities.

Mr Akhalaia was arrested last week, and was already facing charges of physical and verbal abuse of soldiers.

In the new charges filed on Tuesday, he is accused of having the 17 soldiers locked up in a room where they were allegedly beaten, and denied food and heating.

He could face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty.

Mr Akhalaia also served as interior minister but resigned from that post in September after video footage emerged showing prison guards abusing inmates.

He said at the time that he was resigning because he felt "moral and political responsibility" that the practice of torture had not been eradicated from Georgia's jails.

Mr Akhalaia now finds himself being held in the same jail where inmates were allegedly abused while he was in charge of the prison system, the BBC's Damien McGuinness reports from Tbilisi.

Georgia was widely praised after October's elections for ensuring the first peaceful transition of power in the country's post-Soviet history, but over the past week tensions between the ousted government and the country's new leadership have been mounting, our correspondent reports.