3 photographers charged with spying in Georgia
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Three photojournalists arrested in Georgia this week have been charged with espionage, the lawyer for one of them said Saturday.
Ramaz Chinchaladze told The Associated Press that the photographers and a photographer's wife were charged early Saturday. He said no specifics were given about what the four were alleged to have done.
Those charged include Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's personal photographer, Irakli Gedenidze.
Chinchaladze is the lawyer for Georgy Abdaladze, a Foreign Ministry photographer. The others charged are Zurab Kurtsikidze of the European Pressphoto Agency and Gedenidze's wife.
All four were arrested early Thursday.
Georgian authorities have given few details of the case.
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.
Chichaladze said his client maintains his innocence. On Friday he read a statement from Abdaladze to reporters, saying "I have never betrayed my homeland with my work. I consider this all to be insanity and do not consider myself guilty."
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 Wednesday that his agency 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."