The Georgian Interior Ministry said in a brief statement on February 11 without providing further details, that a Georgian priest-monk was released “after 25 days of captivity on the occupied territory of Abkhazia as a result of efforts” undertaken by the Ministry.
Last month the Georgian media sources reported, that priest-monk Iona, secular name Mamuka Maisuradze, was “abducted” while trying to visit holy sites in breakaway Abkhazia. His relatives said that kidnappers wanted USD 100,000 in ransom.
Authorities in breakaway Abkhazia said at the time that the Abkhaz law enforcement agencies did not arrest the Georgian priest-monk and they also knew nothing about reported abduction or about the whereabouts of the priest-monk.
Foreign Minister of breakaway Abkhazia, Vyacheslav Chirikba, told RFE/RL’s Russian-language service Ekho Kavkaza in late January, that Mamuka Maisuradze, a secular name of the priest-monk Iona, was a controversial person, who was expelled from Russia in 2009 after being accused of spying in favor of Georgia. Maisuradze joined the Georgian Orthodox Church two years ago and a Georgian Interior Ministry official has confirmed to Civil.ge that the priest-monk Iona was the same person, who was accused by Russia in 2009 of espionage in favor of Georgia.
On February 11 President Saakashvili received priest-monk Iona in his residence in Tbilisi and told him, that “not only no ransom was paid” for his release, but those people who kept him captive in Abkhazia “received what they deserved.” “I can not speak about details now,” Saakashvili said.
“It was not the first case of abduction and while this illegality persist there [in occupied territories] with the help of our enemy, unfortunately it might not be the last one. But the most important is that you are now here with us,” Saakashvili said.
“I think they [referring to alleged kidnappers] now understand, that infringing security of our citizens will always be responded by us. We might not be a large and wealthy state, but we will always protect our citizens with all the available means,” Saakashvili said.
The priest-monk thanked President Saakashvili and the Georgian law enforcement agencies for securing his release through, as he put it, “bloodless operation”. He also said that he was kept in captivity by “gang of criminals” in “humiliating” conditions.