Asked to comment about the arrest of photojournalists in Georgia, U.S. State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, said it was “an issue between Russia and Georgia.”
She was asked at a press briefing in Washington on July 11 what would the State Department’s comment be on the issue since the Department’s first comment on July 8 on the matter and whether the U.S. had communicated its position to the Georgian government.
“Certainly we communicated our position when the question was asked last week,” Nuland responded. “This is an issue between Russia and Georgia. With regard to the treatment of these people, you know we believe in freedom of the media; but if, in fact, there have been actions incompatible with that, then we would want to see a transparent and accountable judicial process.”
On July 8 when asked about the arrest of photojournalists, the U.S. Department of State spokesperson said: “I think we would say here what we say to the Georgian government and to governments around the world privately, that we expect a free, fair, accountable, transparent judicial proceeding in this case and in others.”
Meanwhile, a group of Georgian journalists from a local media watchdog coalition met with the U.S. ambassador to Georgia, John Bass, on July 12. The group has launched an active campaign calling for making public the case against the arrested photographers, which has been classified by the authorities on the grounds that it contains secret materials.
Zviad Koridze, chairman of the Press Council, a self-regulatory body for journalists, who participated in the meeting with the U.S. ambassador, said that at the time of the meeting he was not aware about the remarks of the U.S. Department of State’s spokesperson and the issue of arrested photographers was not in any way discussed in a context of “Russia and Georgia.”
“No such political accents were made. The ambassador stressed that the investigation of this case should be open, transparent and fair,” Koridze told Civil.ge.
Zurab Kurtsikidze, photographer for the Frankfurt-based European Pressphoto Agency (EPA); Irakli Gedenidze, President Saakashvili personal photographer and Giorgi Abdaladze, a freelancer who also was a contract photographer with the Georgian Foreign Ministry and also worked as a stringer for the Associated Press were arrested on July 7 and charged with espionage.
The Interior Ministry claims that Kurtsikidze is a “long-time agent”, who was providing the Russian military intelligence with confidential information obtained with the help of Gedenidze and Abdaladze.
Kurtsikidze and Abdaladze insist on innocence; Gedenidze gave videotaped confession statement to the police. Gedenidze’s wife, also a photographer for a local newspaper, Natia Gedenidze, was arrested together with others; she was released on bail.
AP photographer Shakh Aivazov was also taken by the police on July 7, but was released on the same day without being charged.