Files into the case of arrested four photojournalists in connection to espionage charges have been classified as “secret” on the grounds that it involves sensitive information concerning national security, lawyers of detained press photographers have said.
The move means that lawyers of detainees will be prevented from speaking about the details of the matter to the press and the case, if proceeds further into trial stage, will be heard behind court’s closed doors.
According to the law, information and cases classified as “secret” will remain closed to public scrutiny for five years with a possibility to further extend that term; such information can be declassified earlier than five years in case circumstances for keeping it secret no longer exist, or by the decision of President upon the request of Parliament’s Confidence Group, the body which is in charge of monitoring defense spending, including related to top secret projects, as well as discussing sensitive security issues.
Police arrested overnight on Thursday Irakli Gedenidze, the Georgian President’s personal photographer and his wife Natia Gedenidze, also a photographer working for the Tbilisi-based PrimeTime newspaper, as well as Zurab Kurtsikidze, photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency (epa) and Giorgi Abdaladze, a freelancer recently hired as a photographer by the Foreign Ministry.
The Interior Ministry said in a brief statement, without providing details, that detained press photographers were accused of providing “in detriment of Georgia’s interests various information through their professional activities to an organization” working for “one of the foreign country’s special services.”
Lawyers of Kurtsikidze and Abdaladze told journalists after meeting with their clients that they insisted on their innocence. A lawyer for Irakli Gedenidze and his wife, Natia, has declined to comment after meeting with her clients.
Ramaz Chinchaladze, lawyer for Giorgi Abdaladze, said that his client launched a hunger strike in protest over his detention. He said that Abdaladze was “puzzled” after learning that he was accused of espionage.
“He said he had never done anything against the state and had no access to any sensitive information,” the lawyer said.
Lawyers said that charges have not yet formally brought against their clients.
A wife of Giorgi Abdaladze, one of the detained photographers, said that she was told by an investigator that charges would be related with part one of article 314 of the criminal code, which deals with espionage, in particular with gathering state secret information and passing it to foreign country. In case of guilty verdict, the charges carry penalty of eight to 12 years in jail.
Shakh Aivazov, a long-time photojournalist now working for The Associated Press, was also taken by the police last night, but was released shortly after the noon on July 7 without being charged.