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Photojournalists' case ends with convictions after plea bargain

By Messenger Staff
Monday, July 25
Georgian photojournalists arrested on July 7 on espionage charges were sentenced to conditional terms and freed from the courtroom on Friday. President Mikheil Saakashvili’s personal photographer, Irakli Gedenidze, his wife Natia, and European Pressphoto Agency photojournalist Zurab Kurtsikidze and a freelance photographer for the Georgian Foreign Ministry, Giorgi Abdaladze were found guilty and sentenced conditional terms of 3 years and 6 months. The photojournalists, who had previously denied the charges of espionage, pleaded guilty during the questioning earlier this week and at the trial on July 22.

Earlier on Friday the Georgian prosecutor’s office appealed Tbilisi City Court to strike a plea bargain agreement with the detainees charged of spying for Russian special agencies. The prosecutor’s office said the detainees provided investigators with “especially valuable” information for Georgia’s state security.

“The accused persons not only confessed but also timely gave the counterespionage department of the Georgian Interior Ministry important detailed information, such as the identities of the Russian Federation special agencies secret collaborators operating in Georgia and the identities of the people linked with them, specific plans of these agencies directed against the Georgian state and the tasks and the methods of receiving and passing information of this agencies and also provided information about the organizations operating under the cover of the Russian Federation special services,” the statement of the prosecutor’s office reads. The prosecutors said that the detainees no longer bear threat to the society and can be freed on conditional terms.

In addition to the special statement on Friday the Prosecutor’s office issued part of the evidence allegedly found during searches in the detainees’ houses and in their personal computers. Until July 22 the evidence was not disclosed as the case was classified as secret. The evidences released by the prosecutor’s office include transcripts of official meetings of the Georgian Prime Minister, the Georgian President and the Georgian Foreign Minister with the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister last month.

The list of evidence also included a plan of security measures approved by the Interior Ministry for the visit of the Estonian President to Georgia in the beginning of July. The prosecutor’s office said that Gedenidze had a list of the people working for a state company providing services to the governmental agencies and a list of cleaners at the President’s administration. According to the authorities Giorgi Abdaladze had a list of Georgian citizens working for the European Council, the OSCE and the UN structures. All the abovementioned documents were released on Friday with some of the papers containing sensitive information blacked out.

The released photojournalists and their relatives left the court building without making comments for the media while their fellow journalists who have been staging protest rallies since July 7 expressed their discontent over the court’s decision. “There was no actual trial, we did not find out what the evidences were. It still remains unclear for us why these people were arrested,” Nino Zuriashvili, a member of Journalism Ethics Charter told reporters outside the court building “The fight for opening up this case should continue. In opening up I mean making it more transparent in order to find out eventually why they were arrested.”

Georgian Media Club meanwhile has pledged that they will carry out a journalistic investigation into the photojournalists’ case and present it to the local and international community. “A 15-day analysis of the case – the so called evidence released by the Prosecutor’s office, the plea bargain agreement and release of the photojournalists from courtroom has clearly indicated the weakness of the investigation and generally the absurdity of this case. All of this proves not the guilt of the photo reporters but it proves that they are absolutely innocent. Despite the fact that all four photojournalists pleaded guilty and now they are free, we think that we should not weaken our attention towards this case and in the end the truth should be revealed.”