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Former Georgian Interior Ministry Official Charged in 'Photographers' Case'

  • Liz Fuller

The four photographers have claimed that the case against them was retaliation for their coverage of an attack in Tbilisi on May 26, 2011 by heavily armed security personnel on demonstrators calling for the resignation of then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (file photo).

The Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office has charged one man and opened a criminal case against a second in connection with the so-called "photographers' case," in which four photojournalists were found guilty of spying for Russia.

The Prosecutor-General's Office also publicly upheld the repeated assertion by the four that that charge, to which all initially pleaded guilty under pressure, was brought on the initiative of the country's leadership in retaliation for their photographic coverage of the attack in Tbilisi on May 26, 2011, by heavily armed security personnel on some 800 demonstrators calling for the resignation of then-President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The four are Irakli Gedenidze, a photographer with the presidential press service; his wife Natela (Natia) Gedenidze, who worked for a local newspaper; Zurab Kurtsikidze, a photojournalist with the European Press Photo Agency (epa) whom investigators branded "a longtime [Russian] agent"; and Giorgi Abdaladze, a freelancer who was also a contract photographer for the Georgian Foreign Ministry. They were arrested on July 7, 2011; two weeks later the Tbilisi municipal court found them guilty of espionage.

Plea Bargaining

As a result of plea bargaining, and because the accused had purportedly revealed the names of other Russian agents, the prosecution asked for suspended sentences. The judge duly handed down suspended sentences ranging from 18 months' to three years' imprisonment. Those sentences were not subject to appeal.

At the trial, all four pleaded guilty and denied they had been subjected to any kind of pressure. Two years later, however, following the defeat of Saakashvili's United National Movement in the October 2012 parliamentary election by the Georgian Dream coalition, they asked Prosecutor-General Archil Kbilashvili to determine on whose orders they had been subjected to torture while held in pretrial detention; to launch an investigation into why they were illegally charged with espionage; and to declassify their case as secret.

Kbilashvili responded that while existing legislation does not allow for a revision of the case, he would form a commission to probe the apparent miscarriage of justice. Six weeks later, the National Probation Agency annulled the sentences.

The man charged last week is Davit Devnozashvili, former deputy head of the Tbilisi division of the Georgian Interior Ministry's counterintelligence department. He is charged with exceeding his professional responsibilities, specifically by resorting to the use of force and humiliation. Also under investigation is former prison director Aleksandre Mukhadze.

Nude Photo

Speaking to journalists in Tbilisi last week following the announcement of Devnozashvili's arrest, Irakli Gedenidze divulged that he and his wife had pleaded guilty because, he alleged, investigators had threatened to make public a nude photo he had taken of his wife that had been found in his computer database during the original investigation in 2011.

Giorgi Abdaladze for his part was quoted as telling the daily Akhali taoba (Young Generation") that it was imperative to determine on whose orders Devnazoshvili was acting. Abdaladze said he suspects the involvement of Saakashvili, former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, who is currently serving a prison term on charges of abuse of office and illegal use of budget funds, and former Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili, whose arrest and extradition the Georgian authorities have been trying to obtain since he left the country precipitately in late 2012.

Tengiz Gunava, who represents the United National Movement in the Georgian parliament elected in October, conceded that many questions remain with regard to the so-called "photographers' case," but questioned the objectivity of the prosecutor general in arresting Devnozashvili, who denies the charge.

Devnozashvili's lawyer Raul Gamisonia said the materials accumulated during the preliminary investigation, and which the prosecutors apparently believed constituted grounds for arresting his client, have not been corroborated. He said the probe revealed the involvement of specific people in fabricating the case against and the conviction of the four photographers, but that Devnozashvili was not one of them.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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