Prosecutor’s Office releases Abdaladze’s confession testimony
By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, July 19
The Georgian Prosecutor’s office released, as promised, a taped confession statement of Giorgi Abdaladze, freelance photographer of the Foreign Ministry, detained on charges of espionage. In a 16-minute taped questioning session, Abdaladze says that he was forced to cooperate with special agencies in 2002 when he was detained by de facto South Ossetian authorities at Ergneti when he was making a photo report about smuggling at the administrative borderline between Georgia and its breakaway region.
He said that the people from the de facto South Ossetian KGB office physically assaulted him and threatened to kill his family members if he refused to cooperate with them. “I signed a cooperation document and did not read through what my obligations were,” Abdaladze said in his testimony. According to him, some time after the Ergneti incident, an unknown man approached him in Tbilisi and reminded him about an agreement made in Tskhinvali and told him to go to the party office of Georgia’s former Security Minister, Igor Giorgadze. “Someone at the office told me to shoot the rallies staged by Giorgadze’s party activists. They were publishing those photos in the newspapers, on websites and used to send photos to Giorgadze in Russia,” Abdaladze noted.
The detainee said that later in 2007, European Pressphoto Agency’s Zviad Kurtsikidze contacted him and reminded him Tskhinvali events and told him to provide with photos shot at the meetings of the Parliament Speaker as he was working as a photographer at the Georgian Parliament by that time. “Kurtsikidze told me that he was working for one of the agencies and that he needed photos [of the meetings] to send them to Moscow… Later he asked me to provide films of the meetings as well and I agreed,” the detained photographer noted.
According to him, he received one more request from Kurtsikidze during the 2008 August war events. “We were in Gori and Kurtsikidze asked me to pass him the photos which I would shoot, because he needed to send them to Moscow. We were shooting how our troops were retreating from the villages and what the mood of the population was. Kurtsikidze was calling someone and telling him in Russian about the situation there,” Abdaladze said, adding that his contact with Kurtsikidze continued in 2010 when Abdaladze started working for the Foreign Ministry. “He was again asking me to send him photos of the meetings. Then he asked me to send not only the photos of the meetings, but films as well,” he said, adding that he used to take films from one of the computers at the Foreign Ministry.
Abdaladze’s lawyers met him after his confession statement was released. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, one of the lawyers Eka Beselia said Abdaladze did not want his confession testimony to be shown publicly. She said the detainee told the lawyers that he would speak about the details of his case at the court hearing.
Earlier on Monday Beselia said Abdaladze was offered a plea bargain. Speaking to the journalists at Gldani #8 prison, Beselia said the prosecutor’s office made the offer but she still has to find out whether Abdaladze will accept the offer or not. As for other detainees, Zurab Kurtsikidze of European Pressphoto Agency and the President Mikheil Saakashvili’s personal photographer Irakli Gedenidze, the lawyer said “probably they have agreed to plea bargain.” However, later Abdaladze’s other lawyer, Ramaz Chinchaladze said there have been “no talks about a plea bargain so far.
Meanwhile Georgian Press Association issued a statement appealing to the diplomatic corps, international journalism unions, the Georgian authorities and the Georgian society demanding the officials to free Abdaladze, Gedenidze and Kurtsikidze under a guarantee and to declassify the case of the photographers and to “stop persecuting journalists for their professional activities.”
“Abdaladze, Gedenidze and Kurtsikidze remain in prison despite the fact that there have been no factual evidences presented to prove their guilt. Confessions made in suspicious circumstances will not make us believe that the photojournalists are spies,” the statement signed by 43 media outlets reads “We perceive the fact as a revenge and persecution for reporting the truth, which means saying no to the democratic development of the country by the government. We consider that such cases, responsible for which is the President first of all and high rank officials of the law enforcement agencies, violates the rights of media representatives and harms our country’s international image,” it continues. In addition to the statement, with the initiative of Georgian Press Association several news outlets used a sign “protest” instead of photos on their websites and editions on Monday.
Coalition for Media Advocacy has reiterated its demand towards the Interior Ministry to officially confirm that the case of photographers is not fully classified as “secret.” Nino Zuriashvili of the Coalition said want to receive an official confirmation of the verbal statement of the Interior Minister made on July 15 at the meeting with the coalition representatives that only several documents involved in the case are classified as “confidential.”
“Advocates should be able to speak about the materials of the case which are not secret and the content of the document that they signed should change as well. Despite verbal statements [of the Minister of Interior] the lawyers say that they cannot speak about the materials of the case because they have signed a document,” Zuriashvili noted.
Meanwhile, Georgian Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze expressed his discontent over the reaction of Georgian journalists on the detention of photojournalists, saying that some of the media outlets have been giving “absolutely ungrounded questions.” “For example, whether the detainees had an access to the information as if spies were operating only there, where they have access,” the Minister said, adding that the authorities possess “very heavy evidences”, which will be presented at the Court. “I wonder if those journalists will apologise when all the evidence will be revealed at the Court,” Vashadze said.