Vladimer Bedukadze, a former prison guard in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, was vaulted from obscurity and into the spotlight this week after videos he leaked apparently showing the abuse of inmates were broadcast on opposition-linked television.
Aired on September 18, the videos have spurred mass protests, official resignations, promises of reform by the Georgian government, and claims of politics at play.
In this exclusive interview from Brussels, Bedukadze spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak.
RFE/RL: Who filmed the videos at the center of this scandal?
Vladimer Bedukadze: I filmed this video myself on the orders of the prison chief and Interior Minister [Bacho] Akhalaia.
RFE/RL: When did you film them?
Bedukadze: I was filming these videos for one year or more, in 2011 and 2012.
RFE/RL: Why are you in Belgium now?
Bedukadze: I came to Belgium three months ago with the help of a friend who works at the Georgian Interior Ministry and my friend, Giorgi Popkhadze, who is a journalist working for Radio France. I have been waiting for this moment -- for the world to turn its attention to Georgia [and] for this video to lift the mask of the criminal actions of [President Mikheil] Saakashvili and his regime.
RFE/RL: So is it now up to the Belgian government whether you can stay here?
Bedukadze: I have asked for political asylum in Belgium. My family is being held hostage in Georgia and I demand that the Belgian government grant them political asylum, too.
RFE/RL: Several Georgian officials claim that the opposition is behind these videos or their public release, as they have surfaced less than two weeks before parliamentary elections. What do you say to allegations that you were paid off by opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili?
Bedukadze: That is preposterous. I have no relationship with Ivanishvili, I don't know him at all. I am apolitical. Saakashvili is bluffing.
RFE/RL: Some officials have charged that you were paid by former police General Tamaz Tamazashvili, who was an inmate at Prison No. 8 when you worked there and who is linked to Ivanishvili. Your response?
Bedukadze: As far as I know, they detained three of my colleagues, prison guards, and they are torturing them to make them testify against me, to say that I have been friends with Tamazashvili and that I received a bribe from him to film these videos. It's a lie, it's slander. I have no relationship with General Tamazashvili, nor have I ever been a member of any opposition parties.
RFE/RL: Do you believe the Georgian government is looking to prosecute you?
Bedukadze: [The Georgian government] put me on a wanted list yesterday and they're looking for me now.