A group of photographers arrested in the Georgian capital Tbilisi have been sentenced to two months of preliminary detention. The Georgian Interior Ministry claims the detainees were spying for Russia’s Intelligence Services.
On Saturday, Tbilisi City Court sentenced three high-profile photographers to a two month pre-trial detention term on charges of espionage, Agence France Presse reported.
All the detainees were members of the president’s pool and could have access to highly classified information. According to investigators, the photographers received cash rewards for pictures they were sending to Moscow.
Georgia’s Interior Ministry representative claims that one of the arrested, Zurab Kurtskidze, was passing the data collected by his colleagues to the Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia’s Ministry of Defense, Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Investigators also say they found a floor plan of the Georgian presidential administration and information about Mikhail Saakashvili’s itinerary during a search of the photographers’ personal belongings.
Georgia’s counterintelligence agencies are to continue the investigation during the next two months to establish more evidence and prepare a case for the trial.
The first court hearing is scheduled for September 1. It will be closed to the media. The photographers are facing up to 12 years in jail if found guilty.
Earlier reports stated that three photographers were officially charged with espionage and harming the interests of Georgia by passing sensitive information to a certain organization that is working under the cover of the intelligence agency of a foreign country.
Four photojournalists were detained on Thursday, including the president’s personal photographer and employees of the Associated Press and the European Press Agency.
One of the photographers, Natia Gedenidze, was released early on Saturday morning and is already at home, but she refuses to communicate with the press due to her “severe emotional state,” Itar-Tass news agency reported.
The detainees plead not guilty. One of them, Giya Abdaladze, continues a hunger-strike which he started on the day of his arrest, claiming he “never acted against Georgia’s interests.” Lawyers of the detainees have pledged secrecy over the details of the case.
This is not the first time an alleged spy story has unfolded in Georgia. Last year, 13 people were detained and accused of being spies on Russia’s payroll. Earlier this week, nine of them were found guilty and sentenced to between 11 and 14 years in prison.