Photographers Found Guilty, Freed in Plea Agreement
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 22 Jul.'11 / 20:35

After fifteen days of detention three photojournalists, charged with espionage for Russia, were found guilty and released from courtroom as the judge approved plea agreements between them and the prosecution on July 22.

Few hours before the Tbilisi City Court sitting, which lasted for about fifty minutes, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office announced on July 22 that it had agreed on plea bargain terms with the photographers and would request the court for conditional sentences for the defendants.

Zurab Kurtsikidze, a photographer for the Frankfurt-based European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) was sentenced to two-year conditional sentence. Giorgi Abdaladze, a freelancer who also was a contract photographer with the Georgian Foreign Ministry and Irakli Gedenidze, who was personal photographer for President Saakashvili, received three-year conditional sentences. Gedenidze’s wife, Natia Gedenidze, also a photojournalist arrested in connection to the same case on July 7 but released on bail two days later, received six-month conditional sentence.

They remain under probation and have no right to leave the country. The court decision on approving plea agreement is final and parties cannot appeal it, the judge said.

When considering a motion for plea agreement, court does not hold hearing of a case in substance; judge should make sure that the plea bargain deal is not concluded upon coercion.

During the session in a courtroom, packed with reporters, prosecutor Nodar Grigalashvili read out the prosecution’s motion. The prosecution justified request for conditional sentences for the defendants, citing that they provided the Interior Ministry’s counter-intelligence unit with valuable information, including “names of some agents” working for the Russian intelligence.    

Defendants told the judge that they agreed with plea bargain deals and that it was not concluded upon coercion.

Hours before the court’s decision and just before the prosecution’s announcement about its motion on plea agreements, it emerged that Giorgi Abdaladze dismissed two of his lawyers Eka Beselia and Lado Macharashvili.

Beselia has made number of public statements in recent days claiming that Abdaladze was under “pressure” by the investigation and prosecution pressing him to demand recusal of Beselia. She also said that Abdaladze, who was initially strongly insisting on his innocence, had to give confession statement after “psychological pressure”.

Eka Beselia, who was a practicing lawyer before going into politics in 2007 when she joined ex-defense minister Irakli Okruashvili’s party but quit it last year, leads an advocacy group Solidarity to Illegal Prisoners. She joined Abdaladze’s defense team to, as she put it, gain access to the case and to monitor it.

Also early on July 22 it emerged that one of the lawyers of Zurab Kurtsikidze pulled out from the case. Kurtsikidze’s former lawyer, Nino Andriashvili, who works for the Tbilisi-based watchdog Human Rights Center, said she had decided to withdraw from the case. She said that Kurtsikidze gave his confession statement as a result of pressure exerted on him by the investigation and that his testimony was not a result of his free will.

The prosecution said that apart of confession statements made by the accused, the investigation obtained number of other evidence to prove its case against the photographers.

Before the court’s decision, the Georgian Chief Prosecutor’s Office released through its website on July 22 several confidential documents with blacked-out words and phrases, claimed to be retrieved from the defendants’ personal computers and electronic data storage devices. 

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