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Journalists detained at administrative border

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, April 17
It is still unknown when the Georgian journalists, detained by the Russia authorities at the administrative border will be released. Neither Georgian law-enforcement nor the European Monitoring Mission can provide exact information. Georgian officials and the mission representatives say that active consultations are underway with the breakaway South Ossetian leadership. Parliamentary Chairperson Davit Usupashvili has stressed that due to the Ukrainian hardship, the situation in the whole region is tense. The speaker called on all Georgian citizens and especially journalists to be extremely careful as provocations from the Russian side are underway.

Reporter of the broadcasting company TV3 Bela Zakaidze, cameraman Vahko Lekiashvili and technical support staff member Mikheil Mikhoev were detained near the Adzvi village, located near the occupation line on April 15.

TV3 producer Eka Kardava said the crew was due to report live from the scene at 5pm, but several minutes before the program started, the team lost contact with the journalists.

"Now we are moving to Tskhinvali. They promised to release us tomorrow. Appease my mother please," Zakaidze told relatives on the phone the same evening.

The Russian Foreign Ministry stated that the journalists demonstratively crossed the border, and that is why have been detained by the Russians and delivered to the South Ossetians. The Russian MFA emphasizes that there is a struggle within Georgian society between those trying to improve relations with Russia and those supporting the hostile attitude of the former Georgian government.

“It seems a pre-planned action with a purpose to complicate the atmosphere of the meeting between Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Georgian Prime Minister’s special representative Zurab Abashidze in Prague,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that the journalists are in good health.

According to the ministry’s Analytical Department Head, Gocha Ratiani, both ministries of internal and foreign affairs are working actively on this issue. “The international community has been informed as well, including the co-chairs of the Geneva talks,” Ratiani said.

Georgia’s Special Envoy to Russia, Zurab Abashidze, who left to Prague to meet the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gregory Karasin on April 16, promised to start bilateral talks on the issue.

Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Maia Panjikidze called on Georgian citizens to inform the foreign and internal departments before going to the occupation line.

“We first of all informed EU Monitoring Mission, which has a better mechanism to find out what is happening. I would like to call on everyone who intends to visit the villages along the occupation line – don’t do this without informing the Ministries of Foreign and Internal Affairs about such intentions,” Panjikide said.

The Deputy Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili spoke to the EUMM about the detention of the people.

“As they informed me, the mission has contacted the Ossetian side via the hotline and we are working intensively to release the reporters. The detention of journalists is a very regrettable fact, which once more confirms that we live under occupation,” Tsikhelashvili stressed.

The EU Monitoring Mission has no new information about the journalists. The mission does not have accurate information on whether the TV crew members will be freed on April 16 or not.

"Unfortunately, I cannot say anything new. Negotiations are ongoing and we hope that the detainees will be released as soon as possible.”

The opposition United National Movement MP, Giorgi Tevdoradze says that the government should take reasonable steps.

“It has been revealed once again that the reconciliation policy with Russia is absolutely useless,” Tevdoradze said.

Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili stated that despite the ongoing negotiations between the parties and Georgian attempts to reach an agreement with them, the representatives of the de-facto government as well as Russian servicemen have remained steadfast to the corrupt practice of harsh violation of the people’s rights as well as the principles of the international law.

“According to international law, the responsibility on stripping the journalists off their freedom must be placed on the Russian Federation,” Nanuashvili said.

Relatives and friends of the detained journalists are still waiting near the Ergneti post. They believe the journalists will be released from there.