Three members of the Tbilisi-based TV3 television station crew, who were detained by the Russian troops at breakaway South Ossetian administrative boundary line late on Tuesday afternoon, were released on Wednesday evening.
Journalist Bela Zakaidze, cameraman Vakhtang Lekiashvili and a broadcast technician Mikheil Mikhoev were held in a detention center in Tskhinvali.
Authorities in the breakaway region said that the Georgian TV crew members were detained for “violation of the South Ossetian border.” The Russian Foreign Ministry said that TV crew members crossed into South Ossetia “demonstratively”, calling it a “provocation.”
The Georgian Foreign Ministry responded that illegal detention of the Georgian journalists by the Russian occupying forces was in itself a provocation, adding that Tbilisi “is not interested in escalating the situation.”
The issue was also raised during a meeting between Georgian PM’s special envoy for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin, in Prague on April 16.
Journalist Bela Zakaidze, who spent over 24 hours in detention in Tskhinvali together with her two colleagues, told TV3 via phone after she was released that there was no verbal or physical abuse against them, but complained that there was “unhygienic” and “inhuman” conditions in the Tskhinvali detention center.
Authorities in breakaway South Ossetia said that they “expelled” three Georgian citizens.
“An administrative expulsion without imposing fine was applied against three Georgian citizens. It was done as a gesture of good will by the authorities of South Ossetia,” breakaway region’s official news agency, RES, reported quoting a statement from the South Ossetian security service.
Detentions, mainly of local population, along the administrative boundary line for, what Tskhinvali and Russian troops say is, “violation of the border”, are not rare; usually detained persons are released after being fined.
The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia welcomed the release of the three journalists, who, as the mission said “were held for crossing the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) near Adzvi village, Gori region."
“To facilitate the release EUMM immediately activated the Hotline, and was in frequent contact with all sides until the journalists were released today,” EUMM said in a statement.
“EUMM calls upon all sides to show maximum understanding and mutual respect during Easter allowing all communities to celebrate this religious holiday, important for all Christian Orthodox believers, in accordance with their common traditions, in peace and safety,” it said.