The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today supported calls
for the release of four photojournalists who were arrested in Tbilisi on
7 July on allegations of "spying on behalf of foreign intelligence
services or organisations". The reporters are to stand trial in
"Accusations of spying against journalists should not be made lightly," said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. "We are concerned that our colleagues' case has been classified top secret which limits their ability to properly answer charges brought against them."
According to the Independent Association of Georgian Journalists (IAGJ), an IFJ affiliate, Georgian security forces arrested in the early hours of 7 July Zurab Kurtsikidze, a photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency, Shakh Aivazov of the Associated Press, freelance Giorgi Abdaladze and presidential photographer Irakli Gedenidze together with his wife Natia Gedenidze, also a photographer. The police released later on the same day Shakh Aivazov and Natia Gedenidze.
Media reports say that the remaining photojournalists were remanded in custody on 9 July by a court in the capital, Tbilisi , pending their trial which is scheduled to begin on 1 September 2011. The reporters who are charged with "espionage, gathering information or transfer on behalf of foreign intelligence service or foreign organization to the detriment of interests of Georgia" were denied bail by the court.
The IAGJ condemned the arrests and called on Georgian President Michael Saakashvili to intervene in this case to secure release on bail. The union says the arrests may be related to the photographers' work, quoting Giorgi Abdaladze who reportedly said his arrest was linked to some photos he took on 26 May of police using violence against anti-government protesters.
The IFJ supports the IAGJ' call and says photographers are under stricter scrutiny in repressive regimes which are desperate to stop images likely to show the government in poor light from reaching the outside world.
"The Georgian government has made a great deal of his democratic rule in the region," said Beth Costa, IFJ General Secretary. "This is a test case to prove its genuine commitment to the rule of law and tolerance of criticism. The photojournalists are entitled to the presumption of innocence and should be released to defend themselves as free men in a public trial."
For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 07
The IFJ represents more than 600.000 journalists in 131 countries