Footage allegedly filmed in a South Ossetian detention centre showing prisoners being beaten by security forces has been leaked online, leading to calls for the resignation of the interior and justice ministers.
The videos were posted on Facebook on 22 October by a user under the name Soslan Bibiloa.
The videos came three weeks after reports that prisoners in South Ossetia who were on hunger strike were physically abused by officials.
RFE/RL’s Ekho Kavkaza, reported that the strike that began on 27 September was triggered by the introduction of Russian regulations in South Ossetian prisons. The prisoners’ other concerns included poor sanitary conditions, insufficient time outside their cells, and the limited number of parcels that they could receive from relatives.
Two prisoners required hospitalisation after they were allegedly beaten a day after the prison was visited by parliamentary officials investigating the hunger strike.
So far, neither the Interior Ministry nor the Ministry of Justice of South Ossetia have commented on the footage. Neither replied to a request for comment.
On Tuesday, the speaker of the South Ossetian parliament Alan Tadtaev, told journalists that he had received an appeal from a group of MPs demanding the interior and justice ministers be fired.
According to South Ossetian state-owned news agency RES, the deputies will discuss the motion of no confidence in two ministers at a meeting of the legislative body, possibly on Thursday.
David Sanakoev, a former foreign minister and the leader of the opposition New Ossetia party wrote on Facebook that ‘the current government is trying to completely destroy freedom of speech in the republic’.
‘MPs who signed the appeal on the vote [to oust ministers] have been deprived of the opportunity to speak to the media and explain their position’, said Sanakoev. He added that there had been attempts to pressure deputies to withdraw their appeal.
‘Good conditions have been created for prisoners’
After the reports about prison abuses first broke, South Ossetian Justice Minister Zalina Laliyeva questioned the legitimacy of the hunger strike on 1 October, as she said that the prisoners had not submitted a written notice of the strike to the prison administration. She said that without the notice, she would not recognise the protest as a hunger strike, but rather as a violation of internal prison regulations.
She added that they were conducting an internal investigation into the matter.
Laliyeva said that they had carried out ‘successful reforms’ in order to meet the requirements of Russian legislation. She said that this included dividing the prison into maximum security and a general prison regime, receiving more equipment for the dining room, and improved medical assistance.
‘Good conditions have been created for [the prisoners]’, Laliyeva said.
After the reports of violence against the hunger strikers, RES reported that the South Ossetian parliament had instructed the Prosecutor’s Office to look into the allegations.
In a parliamentary session, the Speaker Alan Tadtaev said that he and other members of parliament had visited the prison twice in the week after the initial reports of prisoners going on hunger strike.
He added that MPs visited the dining room and that ‘nobody can say that it was dirty’.
‘The prisoners were dissatisfied with the work of the cook, but during our visit, she had already been suspended. In two days we solved the reported problems’, Tadtaev said. ‘We didn’t have to go there at all, just write a letter to the Prosecutor General’s Office asking him to check and take measures.’
He also said that despite the ‘improvements’ the prisoners continued their hunger strike.
‘Their conditions improved, their complaints were heard, measures were taken, but they themselves do not want to meet them and continue to starve’, he said. ‘They must understand that this is not a resort, but a prison.’
As for the reported abuse of prisoners, Deputy Chairman of the Parliament Alik Pliev said that if the allegations could be proven, the perpetrators should be held accountable.
‘If this information is confirmed, then whoever gave such an order should be punished by the law. You cannot beat people. We do not use torture. If a prisoner has violated something, you can put him into solitary confinement’, Pliev said.
MP Ivan Slanov suggested that independent medical examinations be carried out on the prisoners, to ascertain whether they were beaten or not.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.