Georgia’s spy scandal has taken another twist, with Tbilisi saying three photo-journalists, charged as pro-Russian, have pleaded guilty. But some Georgian journalists believe the suspects have been coerced into admitting crimes they did not commit.
The last Georgian photographer to deny allegations of spying has apparently changed his story. He now admits his guilt of the charges.
Video testimony of Georgy Abdaladze’s confession of spying for Russia was released by prosecutors to the media. But most journalists are skeptical about this latest development.
“All of this is very strange: and the arrest in the middle of the night, and that this entire case has been marked as top secret. All of this raises questions, and we are not getting any answers. And this confession is not satisfactory, either, because we have many doubts about this whole deal,” said Lasha Tugushi, editor-in-chief of Resonansi newspaper.
Georgy Abdaladze had maintained his innocence ever since he, along with three other photo journalists, was arrested at the beginning of this month.
All, including President Mikhail Saakashvili’s personal photographer, were accused of passing on top-secret information to Russia’s military intelligence.
They all initially insisted they were innocent. Then, one by one, the photographers started changing their testimonies. Eventually, three of them incriminated themselves on espionage charges.
But Abdaladze insisted he was not guilty and even went on hunger strike to prove his point. In fact, his lawyer insists the photographer seems to have changed his mind within the space of just ten minutes.
And that has led to questions over the circumstances under which the photographer seems to have changed his story.
Managing editor of Alia newspaper, Demetre Tikaradze, believes these admissions of guilt show the case has been fabricated.
“We live in a totalitarian state today; all power is concentrated in the hands of President Saakashvili. If someone goes against him, then all of us will end up like this. If the Interior Ministry had any other proof of their guilt, they would not have to force these confessions out of them. Basically, this is a message for all of us, journalists, including me and you,” Tikaradze told RT.
Members of the media heard that message loud and clear and staged a protest outside the jail, where three photographers are being held in preliminary detention.
Human rights activists, meanwhile, believe protests will hardly affect the system of power in the country.
“It is very likely that Abdaladze will be forced to ask for my removal from the case. Investigators want everyone who can interfere out of the picture, so they can lead it the way they want to. They want the case of the photographers to end without any public discussion. And that is possible if all of the arrested plead guilty,” said human rights activist Eka Beselia.
While the case seems outrageous to journalists and many ordinary people, it is just the latest in the seemingly endless string of spy scandals to hit Georgia.