Georgia Accuses 3 Photographers of Spying for Russia

Posted July 9th, 2011 at 12:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Georgia has accused three photographers of espionage, alleging that they passed on secret information about President Mikheil Saakashvili to Russian intelligence.

Officials in Tbilisi said Saturday that the three men included Mr. Saakashvili's personal photographer, Irakli Gedenidze. The Georgian authorities alleged that the photographers handed over information to the Russian military intelligence unit, known as the GRU, about the Georgian leader's travel plans and meetings as well as the layout of the presidential building.

Georgian television showed Gedenidze confessing to giving one of the other accused photographers, Zurab Kurtsikidze of the European Pressphoto Agency, the secret information and discussing payments. The government also charged Foreign Ministry photographer Giorgi Abdaladze.

After their arrests on Thursday, the government said the case had nothing to do with freedom of the press or their work as photographers.

But the Frankfurt-based Pressphoto organization said the Georgian authorities misinterpreted innocent conversations about payments for photographs. It said that Kurtsikidze sometimes bought photos from the other men for his agency.

Russia and Georgia, which has sought closer ties with the West, fought a brief war in 2008. Russian troops continue to occupy South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway territories that have declared their independence. Each is within Georgia's internationally recognized territory.

Tbilisi has regularly accused Moscow of operating espionage activities in Georgia. Courts in Georgia have convicted several people of spying for Russia, most recently this week when a Russian and eight Georgians were convicted of espionage and sentenced to 11-to-14-year terms.