Georgia claims a group of high-profile photographers detained in the capital, Tbilisi, have been spying for a foreign state.
The arrests come as nine other people were jailed for up to 14 years for espionage for Moscow.
Georgia is continuing its fervent counterespionage campaign – and this time around, the people in the spotlight are those who usually stay behind the scenes.
Four photojournalists have been detained, including the president’s personal photographer and employees of the Associated Press and the European Press Agency.
The AP photographer was later released without charge, but the other three remain in custody.
“I have met with my client,” said Nino Andriashvili, lawyer of one of the detained photographers. “He’s got injuries to his face. At the moment, he still hasn’t been charged with anything, and we’re waiting on the prosecutors to file the case and to question and formally charge my client.”
So far, Georgian authorities have not specified exactly for whom they believe these journalists were spying. Their previous spying allegations, however, have mostly been aimed at Russia.
“For Saakashvili right now, this continuing anti-Russian hysteria is the main basis of his domestic policy and the main reason for his staying in power,” said Kakha Kukava, leader of Free Georgia. “This is Saakashvili’s second term, which will end in 2013, and he is going to prolong it. He needs an explanation to produce to his European partners, and the only explanation Saakashvili has is that he should protect Georgia’s independence and that he is struggling against Russian agents and spies.”
The recent hysteria began with yet another alleged spy story. 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 behind bars. But what lies behind this frenzied espionage clampdown?
“The Georgians are so quick to stick a spy label onto anyone. I guess it’s just their level of ‘democracy,’ and that has been noticed not just by Russia, but by various key international organizations like the UN,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Aleksandr Lukashevich.
Even so, it seems international disbelief and numerous arrests and convictions are not enough to put the paranoia of Georgian officials to rest.
Georgia’s interior minister claims that there are more alleged spies out there, and that he knows exactly who they are, where they are and what they are doing. While official Tbilisi hails these efforts, many seem to be of the opinion that it is just plain paranoia.