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Georgian photographers aided 'spy network': president

08 july 2011, 19:07
0
Irakli Gedenidze, the personal photographer of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. ©Reuters
Irakli Gedenidze, the personal photographer of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. ©Reuters
Four Georgian photographers detained for alleged espionage were working for a "spying network" and their arrest had nothing to do with their journalism, AFP reports, citing the presidency on Friday.

"I should make very clear: this case is about a serious infiltration of our institutions, not about journalism or media activities," President Mikheil Saakashvili's spokeswoman said in the presidency's first reaction to the arrests.

The photojournalists, including Saakashvili's personal photographer, were arrested in overnight raids on Thursday and are accused of spying for a foreign country.

Officials did not name the country involved but Georgia's pro-Western administration has repeatedly accused arch foe Russia of running espionage operations on its territory, both before and after the war they fought in 2008.

The photographers are accused of "passing confidential informations -- written documents in this case, or confidential agendas -- to an organisation identified as spying network", presidential spokeswoman Manana Manjgaladze said in a statement.

Few other details have emerged because the case has been classified as "secret", lawyers for the accused have said.

The four suspects include Saakashvili's photographer Irakli Gedenidze, who had "close access" to the Georgian leader, the statement noted.

European Pressphoto Agency photographer Zurab Kurtsikidze, foreign ministry press centre photographer Giorgi Abdaladze, and Gedenidze's wife, local newspaper photographer Natia Gedenidze, are the others who were held.

It's believed that journalists have never before been detained for spying in Georgia, and campaign group Reporters Without Borders expressed concern about potential impact of the arrests on press freedom.

"It is really disquieting that some of the most prominent photojournalists in Georgia are accused of spying," Johann Bihr of Reporters Without Borders told AFP.

The European Pressphoto Agency which employed photographer Zurab Kurtsikidze has called on the authorities to "correct this misunderstanding".

"Zurab always worked in strict respect of journalistic ethics and within the framework authorised by Georgian authorities," the agency's editor-in-chief Cengiz Seren said in a statement on Thursday.

The arrests came a day after nine people including four Russian citizens were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 11 to 14 years for alleged involvement in a major Moscow-backed espionage network in Georgia.

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