The right to a fair trialfor the Arrested Photo-Journalists in Tbilisimust be respected
(18 July, 2011 - Paris, Geneva, Oslo, The Hague, London) We, international human rights organizations, call on the Governmentof Georgia to guaranteethe right to a fair and public trial for the detained photographers and tocarry out an impartial and transparent investigation in accordance withinternational human rights standards.
On 7 July 2011 at 3:00am,individuals in civilian clothes simultaneously arrested 5 photo-reporters attheir homes and detained them.
The following personswere detained:
· Zurab Kurtsikidze, photographer for the EuropeanPressphoto Agency (EPA);
· Shah Aivazov, photographer for the AssociatedPress;
· Irakli Gedenidze, personal photographer of thePresident of Georgia,
· Natela Gedenidze, photographer for the newspaperPrime Time, and
· Giorgi Abdaladze, photographer for the ForeignMinistry of Georgia and newspaper Alia.
Zurab Kurtsikidzeand Irakli Gedenidze had taken photos of the protest demonstrations on May 21, 2011and documented the dispersal of protest rally in Tbilision May 26,2011, which were subsequentlydisseminated by the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA).The state security requested Giorgi Abdaladze to hand over the photos. According to Kurtsikidze’s lawyer – Nino Andriashvili,he had bruises on his face when she met the detainee first day, however,Kurtsikidze refused to appeal on this ground.
In theafternoon of 7 July 2011,the Ministry of Internal Affairs emphasized in its official statement that“Detainees are accused of supplying the organization, operating under the coverof one of the foreign country’s special service, with various information,against the interests of Georgia.”The five photographers were accused of distributing the list of Georgiancitizens working in the UN. No further details were given.
IrakliGedenidze confessed to the charges brought against him at 2 a.m on 9 July 2011. Our organisations areconcerned that the testimony might have been given under pressure. Half an hourlater, his wife, Natela Gedenidze was released. A 10 000 GEL bail (about 4240 €) was imposed for the release ofNatela Gedenidze, considering that she had confessed and has two littlechildren.
On 9 July 2011,the Tbilisi City Court approved two months preliminary imprisonment for threeof the detained photographers- Zurab Kurtsikidze, Giorgi Abdaladze, IrakliGedenidze. The court session was closedto the public, but the statement of the Tbilisi City Court reads that thedefendants are charged with espionage and collecting, keeping and transferringdocuments or any other data containing state secret to representatives of aforeign organization. The crime carries the penalty of imprisonment for morethan 10 years.
We do notconsider that the known evidence against the photographers is sufficientlyconvincing and compelling. Takingthe timing and circumstances of the confession of Irakli Gedenidze intoaccount, we are concerned that his testimony may have been given under duress.
We would like to remindthe Georgian authorities that international human rights obligations must bemet throughout the criminal proceedings against the photographers. In particular, we encourage the authoritiesto conduct an impartial, independent, and effective investigation in accordancewith international human rights standards.
We call on Georgianauthorities to respect the photographers’ right to a fair and public trial inaccordance with Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and PoliticalRights and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In particular, we remind the authorities thatall defendants are entitled to the presumption of innocence until provenguilty; the assistance of legal counsel of his/her own choosing and thepreparation of an adequate defense; the opportunity to examine theprosecution’s witnesses and present witnesses in the defense’s favor; and tonot be compelled to testify against her/himself or confess her/his guilt. These procedural guarantees for alldefendants represent an important safeguard for ensuring respect for humanrights and the rule of law in Georgia.
Finally, we call oninternational organizations and the diplomatic corps in Georgia to monitorthe case against the photographers and ensure that the government of Georgia respects therights of the defendants throughout the criminal justice process.
Souhayr Belhassen, FIDHPresident
InternationalFederation for Human Rights (FIDH)
17, passage de la maind'or, 75011 Paris, France
Tel: +33 1 43 55 25 18
EricSottas, Secretary General
WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT)
8, rue du Vieux-Billard, 1211 Geneva 8, Switzerland
Tel: + 41 22 809 4939
Harry Hummel, ExecutiveDirector
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
P.O. Box 11717, 2502 AS The Hague, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 70 392 6700
Aage Borchgrevink, Adviser
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Kirkegata 5, 0153 Oslo, Norway
Associate Editor andDeputy Chief Executive
Index on Censorship
Free Word Centre
London, EC1R 3GA, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 207324 2522
 It is noteworthy that thelist which the photographers are accused of having distributed is not aconfidential document and that the status Top Secret was a handwrittennote on the document.
Phoneconversations between the Photo reporters show that money to the photographersis transferred legally. The video material distributed by the Ministry ofInternal Affairs to document work of Russian spies, does not show anyconnection with Zurab Kurtsikidze. The list of Georgian citizens working in theUN, which the photographers are accused of having distributed, is not aconfidential document. It is noteworthy that the status Top Secret was ahandwritten note on the document.