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.