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Former Georgia prison guard: I witnessed abuse for years

From Matthew Chance, CNN
September 23, 2012 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Guard who says he taped the abuse speaks to CNN
  • Videos released this week purportedly show abuse at a prison, juvenile detention facility
  • The U.N. asks Georgia to investigate all allegations of human rights abuses
  • Georgia's interim interior minister says torture in the country will be eradicated

Editor's note: Note graphic content.

(CNN) -- A former prison guard responsible for leaking videos purportedly showing the abuse of prisoners at a penitentiary in the former Soviet republic of Georgia said Friday that he witnessed such torture on a daily basis since 2005.

"While working in prison, I used to witness beating of prisoners, torture of prisoners, humiliation of prisoners on an everyday basis," Vladimir Bedukadze told CNN.

The acts were recorded in four videos that were made public this week and show prisoners being physically and sexually assaulted, humiliated and verbally abused by prison officers.

Purported prison abuse videos prompt outrage in Georgia

Bedukadze left the country three months ago and is now seeking political asylum in Belgium in the wake of the tapes' release.

Georgia television stations, including TV9, broadcast the videos Tuesday night. The faces of those being filmed were obscured. One man cries out while he is being raped with a broom handle. Another video shows an inmate being punched.

Bedukadze slammed the administration of President Mikheil Saakashvili, accusing the leader of allowing a "campaign of torture, humiliation" under former Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia.

"I have been working in the system since 2001, but since 2005 when Akhalaia was put in charge, he introduced his criminal elements of leadership," Bedukadze said.

Akhalaia resigned his post Thursday after the videos' release prompted outrage both inside and outside the Eurasian country. Georgia's minister of corrections and legal assistance has also stepped down. And Saaskashvili himself condemned the abuse, saying Wednesday that what occurred at Gldani No. 8 penitentiary in Tbilisi is "a horrific affront to human rights and human dignity."

Bedukadze said he had been collecting the footage for more than a year.

"When I realized that I could not take it any more, I decided to reveal it and depart for Europe," he said, calling for Saakashvili to resign and accusing the president of establishing "a criminal government with the leadership of Akhalaia."

His comments echo a key allegation made by Georgia's opposition, which says senior government officials sanctioned the abuse.

Saakashvili has said an active investigation is under way into those responsible, with some arrests already taking place.

The country's interior ministry on Tuesday blamed certain prison employees for the degrading treatment.

The ministry said a prisoner at the facility offered "substantial reimbursement" to employees for their actions and the video recordings. Its statement did not elaborate on the prisoner's motivation.

The interior ministry identified that prisoner as Tamaz Tamazashvili, father-in-law of Irlakli Garibashvili, a member of the opposition Georgian Dream party.

Garibashvili said Tamazashvili's life was in danger and that he was being held "hostage" by the president.

Tamazashvili had nothing to do with the taped incidents, Garibashvili said.

Bedukadze insisted that he has no political motivations for releasing the videos, and said he is not affiliated with any political party.

"They made up a lie that I was paid by the opposition leader ... and meant to use it to benefit the opposition. This was not my goal. I left the country independently," he said.

Meanwhile Friday, the United Nations added its voice to a chorus of condemnation over the abuse.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the Georgia government to ensure that these allegations are "promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and that perpetrators are brought to justice," spokesman Rupert Colville said.

"We condemn the acts of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated against inmates at a prison and a juvenile detention facility in Georgia," Colville added.

He said the victims must have access to medical and psychological support.

Interim Interior Minister Eka Zghuladze said that the country has built strong state institutions over the years and that all torture will be eradicated.

The country's prisons were notoriously corrupt places where organized crime ruled, but those days are over, she said, citing personal experience.

"I allow myself to state this, as 18 years ago, I myself was the victim of police violence, and therefore, I am fully aware of my words and situation that we have in Georgia today," Zghuladze said.

Torture is absolutely prohibited under human rights law, Colville said in Geneva, and Georgia has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

He praised the condemnation of the videos by Georgia's president and urged the government to stand by its promise to investigate all alleged human rights abuses, not just the ones exposed this week.

Read more about Human Rights Watch on CNN

NuNu Japaridze contributed to this report.

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