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3 photojournalists suspected of espionage to face trial in September

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, July 11
Three photographers, charged with espionage for Russia, were sentenced to pretrial detention on Saturday. The Georgian President’s personal photographer, Irakli Gedenidze, Foreign Ministry freelance photographer Giorgi Abdaladze and European Pressphoto Agency’s Zurab Kurtsikidze will face trial in September. Gedenidze’s wife, Natia Gedenidze was freed on Saturday on GEL 10 000 bail. Associated Press photographer, Shakh Aivazov was also detained along with four others on Thursday night, but freed several hours later, after questioning.

The Georgian Interior Ministry issued a statement on July 9, saying that Zurab Kurtsikidze of EPA was linked with Russian intelligence service officers. According to the Georgian authorities, Anatoly Sinitsin and Sergei Okrokov of the Main Intelligence Division of the Ministry of Defense of Russia are wanted by Georgian law enforcers for espionage. According to MIA, Kurtsikidze provided them with “secret information received from the other detained suspects.”

“While performing their professional duties as state employees, Irakli Gedenidze and Giorgi Abdaladze took photos of documents containing secret information and in exchange for financial reward handed them over to Kurtsikidze, who sent this information to Moscow,” the Interior Ministry’s statement reads. The authorities said they had found classified documents, photos of the floor plans of the building of the President’s administration, as well as information about the President’s itinerary, details of presidential visits and meetings when searching Gedenidze’s and Abdaladze’s belongings and computers. “The same files were also found in Kurtsikidze’s computer,” MIA said.

The Interior Ministry released a testimony of Irakli Gedenidze. In a video shown on Georgian TV channels Gedenidze said he provided materials to Kurtsikidze under the threat of blackmail. Gedenidze said he used to provide official pictures to his old acquaintance, Kurtsikidze in exchange for certain payments. Later, Gedenidze said, Kurtsikidze asked him to write captions for the photos for certain payment.

“After some time Zura [Zurab Kurtsikidze] asked me to pass some other information to him, which was not related to my professional duties, i.e. to photo shoots. By that time I realized that it was linked to special agencies and my feeling strengthened, as I knew that he was sending these photos to Moscow to a photo agency. I rejected his proposal, I said that I would not pass those pieces of information, that it was not my duty, but he reminded me of my signatures which I was making on the payments for providing photos and told me that he would have used those signatures against me, i.e. he used the language of blackmail. I got afraid and continued cooperation,” Gedenidze said in his testimony. The authorities released taped phone conversations allegedly between Kurtsikidze, Gedenidze and Abdaladze, where Kurtsikidze asks the two men to provide him with their bank account numbers for transferring the payment.

However, the lawyers of the detainees have said their clients do not plead guilty. Giorgi Abdaladze issued a statement calling on his colleagues to stand with him. “I appeal to all journalists who care about finding out truth about this unjust case that the government is against free media. Do not let them conduct one more unlawful act,” the statement posted on newspaper Alia’s website reads “. Do not be intimidated. I will sacrifice myself for finding out the truth because I depend on all of you.”

The Journalist Ethic Charter NGO has announced meanwhile that it will hold a rally in front of the Interior Ministry premises on Monday as a sign of solidarity to the detained photojournalists. The Journalist Ethic Charter has demanded the authorities to “immediately lift” the classification “secret” from the photojournalists’ case.