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Interior Minister refuses to free detained photographers on guarantee

By Mzia Kupunia
Thursday, July 14
Georgian Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili refused to comply with the demand of the Journalism Ethic Charter to release the detained photojournalists on bail. Chairman of the Journalism Ethic Charter council, Zviad Koridze, head of Studio Monitor, Nino Zuriashvili, media expert, Nino Danelia, Georgian Young Lawyers Association member Tamar Kordzaia, Editor-in-Chief of the Liberali Magazine, the Editor-in-Chief of the Rezonansi newspaper Lasha Tughushi and media expert Ia Antadze met the Minister at the Interior Ministry building on Wednesday.

Speaking to the journalists after a three hour long meeting, the participants of the meeting said Minister Merabishvili did not present them any additional evidences of the photojournalists case, which were detained last week on espionage charges. “However he gave us some additional details,” Zuriashvili of Studio Monitor said. “The Minister said that EPA [European PressPhoto Agency, employer of one of the detainees Zurab Kurtsikidze] has nothing to do with the case. He said that the fact that Kurtsikidze was sending photos to EPA and getting money for it, has not become a basis for suspicion,” Zuriashvili noted “he said that the media will receive additional proof at the court session.”

According to the participants of the meeting, Merabishvili has pledged that the investigation will take no longer than a month and that the court hearings will start in a month. Lasha Tughushi of the Rezonansi newspaper said that although the Minister has refused to free the detained photojournalists on bail, but he has said that “nothing is excluded.” “We offered the Minister to speak openly for media, but he told us that he would do so after the court hearing starts,” Tughushi noted “our second demand was declassifying the case. The Minister said that he agrees with the opinion of the Prosecutor’s office and that the Court sessions will be open for public,” he added.

The Georgian Main Prosecutor’s Office said on Wednesday that the “publicity and transparency” of the detained photographers court proceedings will be “ensured.” “In particular, the case will be discussed publicly in the court and any interested person will be able to attend the hearings,” the statement posted on the Prosecutor’s Office website reads “the prosecutor’s office will request the court to discuss only a small part of those evidences which contain state secrets at the closed door hearings,” it continues.

Nino Danelia told reporters after the meeting that the Interior Minister told them about the links between Giorgi Abdaladze’s [employee of Alia and Foreign Ministry freelance photographer] and Georgia’s ex-Security Minister, now in-exile in Russia Igor Giorgadze. “Merabishvili is convinced that such documents will be issued after the court session that nobody will have any questions about the case,” Danelia said.

The participants of the meeting said that they have “not changed their mind” and that they will continue their activities regarding the photojournalists’ case. “We could not see any evidence and we have not changed our minds. We heard only some details, an ungrounded story. We are waiting for the court process, but carry on as normal before the hearings too,” Lasha Tugushi said.