2 Georgian journalists say they spied for Russia

Two of the four Georgian photojournalists charged with espionage have been shown on television confessing to supplying a colleague with secret information on the country’s president which was sent to a Russian secret service.

The four were arrested on Thursday and formally charged early Saturday.

Georgian police spokesman Georgi Bukhrashvili told reporters Saturday that investigators believe European Pressphoto Agency photographer Zurab Kurtsikidze had “connections” with Russia’s military intelligence unit, GRU.

Presidential photographer Irakli Gedenidze and his wife were shown on Georgian television. They confessed they had supplied the EPA photographer with secret information on the president’s schedule, his motorcade’s route and his administration building.

One of four photojournalists charged with espionage in the former Soviet republic of Georgia has been released from custody, Georgian police said Saturday.

The four were arrested on Thursday and formally charged early Saturday.

Hours later, one of them, Natia Gedenidze, was released, said Zurban Gvenetadze, a spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry. He said more details on the case would be released during the day.

Gedenidze’s husband Irakli – the personal photographer for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili – remains in custody, along with the European Pressphoto Agency’s Zurab Kurtsikidze and Georgy Abdaladze, a contract photographer who works with the Georgian Foreign Ministry and has freelanced for The Associated Press. Natia Gedenidze worked as a freelancer with local publications.

Georgian authorities have given few specifics of the allegations against the photographers. The charge carries a sentence of five to 10 years in prison upon conviction.

Saakashvili’s spokeswoman Manana Manjgaladze alleged Friday that the suspects passed written documents to a spying network run by an unspecified country, calling it “a serious infiltration of our institutions.”

Georgia has repeatedly accused Russia, with whom it fought a brief but costly war in 2008, of conducting espionage and trying to organize terrorist attacks in Georgia.

Abdaladze “categorically denies” the charge, his lawyer Ramaz Chinchaladze told AP. “He has again repeated that he was detained illegally and maintains that he has committed no kind of actions that would harm his country. He emphasized that he did not have access to secret information and accordingly could not have spread it,” he said.

Abdaladze declared a hunger strike on the day of his arrest; Chinchaladze said his health is stable.

Kurtsikidze also denies the charges, said his lawyer Mikhail Gongadze.

Associated Press photographer Shakh Aivazov was also detained Thursday, but was released after several hours without being charged. Aivazov’s computer and computer discs were seized after security forces entered his home before dawn Thursday, and was still awaiting the return of the equipment Friday.

Abdaladze, a contract photographer, also has worked as a freelancer for the AP, most recently covering clashes between police and protesters in Tbilisi in May.

The non-governmental Center for Human Rights said the detentions were an attack on media freedoms and demanded the photographers’ release.

Several people have been convicted recently by Georgian courts on charges of spying for Russia. In the most recent such ruling late Wednesday, a court in the Black Sea port of Batumi convicted a Russian citizen and eight Georgians of espionage and gave them prison sentences ranging from 11 to 14 years.

Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told Russian Ekho Moskvy radio this week that his agency has captured most of the Russian spies operating in Georgia, but is still tracking a few who are left.

The spy flaps have aggravated already tense relations between the two former Soviet republics. Russia has dismissed the spy arrests in Georgia as a fabrication.

Under Saakashvili’s leadership, Georgia has strongly cultivated relationships with the West and has said it aims to join NATO.

In a brief comment Friday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “I think we would say here what we say to the Georgian government and to governments around the world privately – that we expect a free, fair, accountable, transparent judicial proceeding in this case and in others.”

source :kavkaz center


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