The penal system in Georgia is rife with the sadistic abuse of inmates covered under a glossy façade, claims an ex-deputy chief warden, who released footage of beatings and rape allegedly taken in a Tbilisi prison.
Vladimir Bedukadze alleges that top Georgian officials, including President Saakashvili, were aware of the abuses at the Gdlani prison, which triggered a major political scandal in the country. He claims that inmates in Georgia face inhumane treatment for political reasons or simply for the amusement of those in charge of jails.
Bedukadze told RT that he wanted to release the footage after bringing his family to Belgium, where he is seeking political asylum. But the Georgian authorities found out about the incriminating evidence and tried to undermine it by painting him a crook and a fabricator.
RT: Vladimir, how long have you been making these videos?
Vladimir Bedukadze: I have been working as the prison’s deputy chief warden since 2008.
RT: Who gave the orders? Who in the government knew what was going on? And who kept this matter under wraps?
VB: I made those videos on the instruction of the chief warden, and then the chief warden showed these videos to Minister Akhalaia. I made those videos over the period of a year, or maybe six months, I’m not sure. I didn’t make them in a day or two. They were accumulated over a period of time, and eventually I had two hours of video. Minister Akhalaia was in charge of all correctional facilities. Then Saakashvili made him Deputy Defense Minister. Then he became Defense Minister, and then, Minister of Internal Affairs. Throughout this time, Akhalaia remained in charge of Georgia’s prison system.
RT: How do you know the chief warden showed those videos to Akhalaia?
VB: I just did what I was told to do. I made those videos for him, and then he would take the tape, and I don’t know what he would do with it. But Akhalaia would often come to the Gdlani prison, perhaps once or twice a week. He used to spend a lot of time talking to the chief warden in his office. Akhalaia was a very close ally of President Saakashvili, whom President Bush called a “beacon of democracy.” He was fully aware of what was going on in the prisons. This is why I insist that Saakashvili should resign. In a democratic country, it wouldn’t be the Minister of Interior Affairs or Defense Minister stepping down; the President would resign. President Saakashvili must step down if he is a democrat. But he’s no democrat. He keeps the entire nation in chaos and fear. He relies on criminals. He has people with blood on their hands working in high positions in the government.
RT: Was Saakashvili aware of what was going on?
VB: Of course he knew. Saakashvili was fully aware of what was going on. When Akhalaia was appointed minister in 2005, the system was very far from European standards. Then Saakashvili appointed Akhalaia minister, and Akhalaia started taking very tough steps. He would send security forces into prisons. They would break into prisons and beat up inmates. Even Akhalaia himself would often be there with a camera, filming everything. And then, I think, he would show those videos to Saakashvili in order to show him what kind of system he had built. European MPs would visit the Gdlani prison, and they were impressed. They would say, “How did you manage to build such a system? You have 4,000 inmates there, and this place is so quiet, we haven’t heard as much as somebody speaking loudly. It’s almost as if there were no inmates there at all.
RT: You’re saying this has been going on for some time. Why did you release these materials now?
VB: In May, I asked myself whether I wanted to serve the regime or be a man. I tendered my resignation, took the videos I had made and left the country. I was afraid because I thought they would kill me. So I came to Belgium and asked for political asylum. My family is currently in Georgia. This is why I asked the Belgian authorities to grant me and my family political asylum as soon as possible.
RT: Are you afraid that something may happen?
VB: Yes. Saakashvili is mentally unstable. Nobody knows what he may do.
RT: Do you have specific reasons to be concerned about your family? Have you received any threats?
VB: Yes, after I released those videos, some people called me on the phone a few times, telling me to keep my mouth shut.
RT: And then you moved to Belgium?
VB: No. Those phone calls were just a couple of days ago. I secretly left Georgia and came to Belgium in July. I have been here for three months now, and for financial reasons I have been unable to bring my family here. Belgian institutions tell me my videos can’t be published before my family comes here, because nobody knows what Saakashvili may do to them. As soon as my family is in Belgium, this footage will be released. When I came to Belgium, I played those tapes to the European Commission and the European Parliament, and they assured me that they would keep it secret and that Saakashvili would never find out about it. They kept their word, but somehow four or five days ago President Saakashvili found out about this tape, and then he told Akhalaia to get two of my friends who worked with me at the prison, and stage a beating of an inmate. So those two guys beat up an innocent inmate, and then that video was aired on Georgian television. They claim that they did it on my orders. The purpose of this fabrication was to create an impression that I was connected to the opposition. They say I was paid 2 million dollars for those videos. But I have never been involved in politics. I have never been in a political party. I didn’t care about politics.
RT: Your critics say the upcoming election is the reason why you have published these videos now.
VB: No, no. They started this by publishing their video! They contacted two of my friends, made that video with an inmate and played it on Georgian TV. What could I do? I had this tape with two hours of footage. I had to defend myself. They forced me to release those videos.
RT: You mean you released your videos in response to what they did?
VB: Right. This had nothing to do with the election.
RT: Let me get this straight. You’re saying that Saakashvili somehow found out that you had these videos…
VB: Actually, it was not Saakashvili. It was Minister Akhalaia who found out.
RT: And then they published their video to accuse you, and after that you released your videos.
VB: Right. Except that their video was staged, it was a fabrication. Those two friends of mine are in prison now. Actually, four of my friends are in prison. This is just to put psychological pressure on me. Saakashvili and Akhalaia accused me of torture and issued a warrant for me. I’m a wanted man now.
RT: Who gave you the order to make those videos? And who among the high-ranking officials knew about what was going on?
VB: Nobody – just the chief warden and I. I was deputy chief warden. He wanted me to film some interesting moments: for example, when police arrest an opposition activist, or a prominent figure, is arrested, he wanted it on tape. Probably, they intended to use those videos later against those people. The chief warden would take those videos to Akhalaia, and Akhalaia would take them to the President. They used it for entertainment. They enjoyed watching how helpless people were in their hands. Once they take you to prison, you are nobody. You have no dignity. This is why these videos caused such an outrage in Georgia. This is why all those young people are protesting.
RT: How did they pick inmates for torture?
VB: They just did it for entertainment, or, if an inmate had something to do with politics, if he was Saakashvili’s enemy, they would pick him. The system is extremely politicized. If you work in.