The three photographers, one of whom was the personal photographer to the President of Georgia and another who was a member of the AP, accused of spying in George have confessed according to Georgian governmental authorities.
These confessions are unlikely to convince many inside or outside of Georgia which begs the question: why obtain false confessions at all?
The trio, including President Mikheil Saakashvili’s personal photographer, is accused of passing classified documents including the floor plan of the presidential building and routes and itinerary of Saakashvili’s trips to Russian intelligence.
It is the latest case of alleged Russian espionage in Georgia since the two countries fought a brief war in August 2008 over rebel South Ossetia.
The arrests on July 7 shook media circles and prompted street protests by Georgian journalists who say they have seen little evidence to support accusations of a spy ring at the heart of the presidential administration.
A senior Interior Ministry official, who declined to be named, said all three had now confessed.
The Justice Ministry released a videotape of one of the accused, freelancer Giorgi Abdaladze, who sometimes worked as a contract photographer for the Foreign Ministry and the Associated Press.
Abdaladze described being approached by Russian intelligence while detained in South Ossetia’s main town of Tskhinvali in 2002 and told to co-operate under threat that his family would be killed.
This involved working with a Georgian political party led by a former senior security official under former President Eduard Shevardnadze, taking pictures of the party rallies.
Then in 2007, when working for the parliamentary press office, Abdaladze said he was approached by co-accused Zurab Kurtsikidze of the Frankfurt-based European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), who “told me he was also working for one of the Russian agencies”.
“He asked me to send him some photos from official meetings. After a while he asked me to give him not just photos but also minutes of meetings, as he needed to send them to Moscow”.
“He reminded me verbally about the episode in Tskhinvali and said that he was also working in that business,” Abdaladze said.
The video looked unlikely to satisfy critics, including a number of Georgian media outlets and organisations which released a statement saying they would not be convinced by police “extracting confessions under dubious circumstances.”
EPA has said it is astonished by the allegations. The Associated Press has not commented on the case.
AP photographer Shakh Aivazov was also arrested but released after several hours without charge.
The Interior Ministry says it has evidence of links between Kurtsikidze and two Russian intelligence officials.
The trio face up to 12 years in jail if convicted, but Georgian news website Civil.ge, citing an Interior Ministry source, said they could walk free under a plea-bargain. The source said Kurtsikidze had requested that the details of his confession not be made public.