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Filmmakers sentenced to prison for espionage

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a 9 March 2006 CPJ press release:

GEORGIA: Filmmakers sentenced to prison for espionage

New York, March 9, 2006 - A court in the breakaway region of Abkhazia has sentenced three Georgian filmmakers to three months in prison for espionage and illegally entering the self-declared republic in the northwest Caucasus, according to local and international press reports.

The filmmakers were tried and convicted on Tuesday evening by the Sukhumi City Court and a Georgian lawyer was not allowed to represent them, local media reported.

Journalists Tea Sharia, Georgii Sokhadze and Teimuraza Eliava entered Abkhazia, which declared independence after a 1992-93 war with Georgia, to make a film about local churches and monasteries in cooperation with the Georgian Orthodox Church. Sharia and Sokhadze are Georgian citizens and Eliava is a Ukrainian citizen originally from Georgia.

They were arrested on March 1 while filming at Bedia monastery in the Ochamchiri region. They were transferred to Sukhumi on the Black Sea coast March 4 and charged March 7 with espionage and entering the region illegally.

Abkhaz security officials accused the three of filming strategic sites such as bridges and railway stations.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information on Georgia, visit http://www.cpj.org

For further information, see CPJ's 7 March 2006 alert: http://www.cpj.org/news/2006/europe/georgia07mar06na.html

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