The Court of Appeals has acquitted photojournalists Giorgi Abdaladze, Zurab Kurtsikidze, Irakli Gedenidze and Natia Gedenidze, who were convicted of espionage for Russia in 2011, and whose arrest triggered wide-spread condemnation in Georgia and abroad.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, new witness accounts obtained during the course of repeat investigation, as well as the examination of case materials “showed that convicts’ rights were violated,” and that there were no grounds for considering them guilty.
Zurab Kurtsikidze, a photographer for the Frankfurt-based European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), Giorgi Abdaladze, a freelancer who also was a contract photographer for the Foreign Ministry, and Irakli Gedenidze, a personal photographer for President Mikheil Saakashvili, were detained on July 7, 2011, on charges of espionage in favor of Russia.
Gedenidze’s wife, Natia Gedenidze, also a photojournalist, was also arrested on July 7, 2011, but was released on bail two days later.
The photojournalists were accused of passing sensitive information, including photos, schedules and transcripts of high-level meetings, to Russian intelligence officers.
The three photojournalists were found guilty on July 22, 2011, but were released from courtroom as part of a plea bargain with the Prosecutor’s Office. Their lawyers, however, claimed the testimonies used for plea bargain were not given voluntarily.
The Prosecutors Office said today that the photojournalists were coerced to give confession statements to the investigation through “psychological pressure and intimidation.”
Giorgi Abdaladze, one of the photographers, told reporters after the court hearing on November 22 that it was because of presidential candidate Grigol Vashadze’s “inhumane” actions back in 2011 that he and his colleagues “went through a nightmare of prison” (Vashadze served as the Foreign Minister in 2011).
Abdaladze has claimed the arrests could have been a personal retribution from President Saakashvili for taking and distributing photos of the break up of the May 26, 2011 rally.
Repeat investigation into the case was launched under the Georgian Dream government. On July 20, 2017, the court sentenced Davit Devnozashvili, Interior Ministry official, and Alexander Mukhadze, director of Gldani prison, and found them guilty of exceeding authority that led to violation of individual’s rights, as well as public and state interests.