Detained Georgian photographers 'spied for Russia': ministry
Three Georgian news photographers charged with espionage were supplying secret information to Russian intelligence, the Georgian interior ministry said Saturday.
An interior ministry statement alleged that confidential plans and pictures gathered by the photojournalists -- who include President Mikeil Saakashvili's personal photographer -- were passed to the Russian defence ministry's intelligence services.
Saakashvili's photographer Irakli Gedenidze, Foreign Ministry photographer Giorgi Abdaladze and European Pressphoto Agency photographer Zurab Kurtsikidze were arrested in overnight raids Thursday.
"The investigation has concluded that Zurab Kurtsikidze had links with the defence ministry intelligence services of the Russian Federation," the interior ministry statement said.
It added that the Gedenidze and Abdaladze were paid to take photographs which Kurtsikidze then sent to Moscow.
Georgia fought a war with its arch foe Russia in 2008 and has repeatedly accused Moscow of running espionage operations on its territory.
The ministry said that confidential information about the president's movements and plans of his administration building were found when the photographers were detained.
The three suspects were sentenced to two months' pre-trial detention at a court in Tbilisi on Saturday after being charged in the early hours of the morning.
Lawyers for the men said they had told the court that they were innocent, local media reported, but no more details have emerged because the case has been classified as 'secret' by the authorities.
Gedenidze's wife Natia, a local newspaper photographer, was also arrested on Thursday but has since been released.
Saakashvili on Friday denied ordering the arrests.
The pro-Western president of the ex-Soviet state told Moscow Echo radio that he was "very upset about losing my personal photographer. But my personal feelings are of secondary importance".
His office earlier moved to calm some of the local media anger by noting that the photographers' detention was unrelated to their journalistic work.
Journalists at the interior ministry press briefing on Saturday were visibly shocked by the allegations that their colleagues had worked for Russia, and a few openly shed tears as they read the press statement.
© 2011 AFP