'Spy' photographer accuses Georgian president

11th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

One of three Georgian photojournalists charged with spying for Russia accused the country's leader on Monday of targeting them because they had documented riot police beating protesters.

The men, who include pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili's personal photographer, are charged with collecting confidential material on the Georgian leader and passing it to Russian military intelligence.

Suspect Giorgi Abdaladze alleged that Saakashvili had become angry because they had provided the international media with "shocking" photographs of officers using batons and rubber bullets at an anti-government protest in May.

"I am sure that the arrest of me and my colleagues is linked with photographs of the May 26 crackdown," Abdaladze said in a statement reported by local media.

The interior ministry however denied this.

"It is ridiculous. Dozens of photographers took photos on May 26," ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told AFP.

He said that state documents clearly marked as confidential were found when the photographers' homes were raided overnight Thursday.

Ex-Soviet Georgia fought a war with neighbour Russia in 2008 and has regularly accused Moscow of running espionage operations on its territory.

The men have been put under two months' pre-trial detention and could face up to 12 years in jail if convicted.

Around 30 journalists rallied outside the interior ministry in Tbilisi on Monday and handed over a letter calling for the case, which has been classified as 'secret' by the authorities, to be opened up to public scrutiny.

"I think there is a climate of fear because of the lack of information and evidence, and that is why we are demanding that the 'secret' status of the case is changed," magazine editor Shorena Shaverdashvili told AFP at the rally.

The authorities have attempted to calm concerns within Georgia's media community by stressing that the men were not arrested because of their journalistic work.

Police have also released allegedly incriminating video testimony from one of the suspects and surveillance recordings of phonecalls between them.

© 2011 AFP

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