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The photographers' case undermines Georgia’s democratic image

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, July 19
The case of the photographers, who were detained on allegations of spying in favour of Russia, has created a scandal in Georgia, which was picked up all across the globe. The Georgian ruling power has promised it will conduct a transparent court case and produce valid, convincing and solid evidence. Only the confessions of the convicts will not suffice.

The events developed as such: on July 7 Georgia’s counter intelligence service detained a photographer of European Press Photo Agency Zurab Kurtsikidze, photographer of the President’s Press Service Irakli Gedenidze, his wife also a photographer Natia Gedenidze and the photographer of Alia newspaper who was a freelance photographer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well Gia (Giorgi) Abdaladze.

On July 8 they were accused of espionage for collecting, storing and submitting to foreign organizations of certain country classified information which were allegedly state secrets. The same day the court decided to detain them for a three month period for the investigation as they were accused of a serious offence which carries punishment of ten or more years. Only the wife of Irakli Gedenidze was released on bail, allegedly after a confession.

The Ministry of Interior claims that it has enough convincing proof that since 2004 Kurtsikidze was in close connection with the representatives of Russian military intelligence in particular with Anatoly Sinitsin and Sergey Okrokov. Information about these persons became available in 2006 when Georgia detained four Russian citizens for spying. Then it became known that the coordination of a spying network in Georgia was being conducted by Russian intelligence officer Anatoly Sinitsin.

Until the court process is held most of the Georgian population is confused as to whether the officials have enough convincing evidence proving the photographers' alleged spy activities as their confessions alone are not accepted as sufficient by the population. Memories of the Soviet past are all too fresh, when the forcing of confessions was widespread. Therefore the population is not trustful of these confessions as during the Soviet period they were only achieved after inhuman physical and psychological pressure. But so far all four of them have confessed and officials promise to provide society with extra evidence during the court hearings. There are different opinions about this case. It is promised that court hearings will start at the beginning of September. Some analysts think that after the confession all the photographers might be pardoned and released, though this move would be understood as inability to produce genuine proof of their guilt.

Meanwhile until the hearing has started there are different versions disseminating in local media as well as in foreign media. Some think that the officials were upset that some shots of the crackdown of the protest action overnight from May 25-May 26 were taken by president’s official photographer Gedenidze and later the pictures were sent abroad through Kurtsikidze. As it is known if some ordinary photographers were under pressure from the police during their activities, but Gedenidze felt comfortable as he arrived at the parliament together with police who knew him and allowed him to work freely. The officials saw that Gedenidze’s conduct violated their rules of the game, he was privileged to take photos freely and he used this privilege for his personal interests – selling the photos.

The second version considers that by arresting the photographers the ruling administration aims to intimidate the media. In reality the situation is quite complicated, as the rose administration's goal of creating a democratic country is under threat. As foreign allies or international organizations all insist that Georgian leadership conducts fair, transparent and objective court hearings, this is a great test for Georgia. The scandal concerning the case is still on, Georgia’s civil society, the opposition spectrum and the population demands an objective investigation. Nobody doubts that if there were spying cases those should be punished however there are many questions. What was the information available to photographers? Did they have access to the classified information? Whose responsibility was it to keep this classified information confidential? Was it a spying attempt for the personal photographer of the president to send photos abroad or was it abuse of professional ethics and an employment agreement. There are some questions concerning the issue of human rights abuse and freedom of expression as well. Of course it undermines Georgia’s overall image as a democratic country.

It should be remembered that even the persons behind the wikileaks outbreak were not arrested and put on trial, although they revealed some of the world's biggest secrets.