July 7, 2011 — -- The man responsible for photographing the President of Georgia has been arrested by Georgian authorities along with three others on charges of espionage.
The President's photographer, Irakli Gedenidze, and his wife Natia were taken into custody, accused of "operating under the cover of one of the foreign country's special service, with various information, against the interests of Georgia," the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs announced today.
Along with the Gedenidzes, police detained Giorgi Abdaladze, the photographer for Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as Zurab Qurtsikidze, a photographer for the European PressPhoto Agency. The statement did not name which foreign country the Georgian authorities believe to be involved, but Qurtsikidze's employer told ABC News he had been told his arrest was connected to Russia.
"They say he sent pictures to Moscow," EPA editor-in-chief Cengiz Serem said in a phone interview. "These were pool pictures and were given to all agencies... The pictures are even vetted by the President before they're sent out."
Audibly exasperated, Serem said Qurtsikidze is "absolutely not" a spy and the charges against him were "crazy."
A fifth photojournalist, working for The Associated Press, was also reportedly detained but released hours later.
According to the BBC, it's the first time in the history of Georgia that journalists have been arrested on suspicion of spying. In a separate case, a Russian state newspaper reported nine other people had been jailed in Georgia Wednesday, including four Russians, accused of spying for Moscow.
While a group of journalists reportedly protested the arrests from outside the prison where the photographers and their wives are being held, one of the detained, Abdaladze, protested on the inside by going on a hunger strike, Russia's RIA Novosti reported.
Serem said Qurtsikidze has never had trouble with authorities before.
"[Qurtsikidze] only covers what he's officially invited to and authorized to do," he said. "We do not have that sort of investigative journalism there."