“I will walk out of here either dead or alive but righteous!”
14 July, 2011
“I will walk out of here either dead or alive but righteous!”

 

Photo reporter Giorgi Abdaladze talks about the reason behind his detention

“On 28 or 29 May, State Guards Service phoned me and requested that I should deliver all my 26 May event photos to them. That moment I did not take it seriously. I replied that I deleted all of them. Probably I should have understood by then that the story about the photos would have a sequel.

 

After my detainment, I have been in search of a clue behind the arrest

of our five photo reporters, what it was that linked all of us and irritated haigh ranking officials so much that incurred their wrath on us. It’s a fact that our arrests were ordered by no one else but President Mikheil Saakashvili because even his personal reporter Irakli Gedenidze shared our fate. Apparently, no one would dare to do it without the exclusive sanction of the President.

All of us must have enraged Saakashvili. All of us must have done something that amounted to a slap in his face. As the lawyers tell me, some people think our arrests may be linked to a photo of a specific high ranking official. In reality, I have never taken such a photo. If something like that has ever accidentally occurred, I would instantly remove it. So, I would not have showed it to anyone, let alone the question of spreading it. I never shuffled through private lives. So, I cannot link my detention to scandalous private photos.

I am sure that I and my colleagues were arrested in connection to the 26 May photos solely. Here is why: firstly, I have not taken any scandalous photos after the August war. Even the photos of the war should not frustrate Saakashvili. Instead, all the war pictures describe the anatomy of Russian aggression, one of them having travelled around the global press. On 26 May (the day of the crackdown on and killing of four demonstrators) we took pictures which clearly showed punishment of population. Associated Press placed two of those pictures on its web site. These pictures then were used by a number of European and American newspapers and magazines.

Zura Kurtsikidze, Shakh Aivazov, the France Press and Reuters photo reporters too took and shared scandalous pictures. I should however admit that the best pictures came from Irakli Gedenidze. He arrived to the 26 May rally together with Special Forces and was best positioned for photographing because the law enforcers knew he was the personal photographer of the President. So, no one confronted him during photographing. Irakli took a telling picture of a man killed by the Special Forces. Later he sold this photo to Zura Kurtsikidze who spread it via the European Pressphoto Agency. There the photo did not have an indication of authorship but any photo reporter knew it was made by Irakli.

Our photos travel around the whole world and press of many countries, where Mikheil Saakashvili proudly presents the image of himself as a champion of democracy. He did not forgive us that we spoiled the image and that we showed him as a leader of the bloody regime to everyone. The Former Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze was tabling these very photos in her European missions. That is why Saakashvili decided to punish us. It’s just he could not touch the photo reporters of Reuters and France Press because these agencies run official representations in Georgia and detention of their photo reporters would have created an international scandal. Still, they miscalculated aarresting Shakh Aivazov. He belongs to the Moscow office of the Associated Press. Hence, the American Embassy instantly inquired about his fate. As for me, I am a freelancer working on Associated Press. Even so, I heard that the American Embassy learnt about my detention belatedly.

I also heard that the American Ambassador himself took a strong interest in the Shakh Aivazov’s issue. He was going to make an emergency statement but they freed him. The Embassy learnt about my detention only from the public statement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Though, Shakh had an advantage compared with me. He was a regular employee of the Associated Press, while I was not.

Saakashvili decided to give us an exemplary punishment so that other photo reporters working in Georgia and highlighting events unfolding here understand the risks. No one touched those photo reporters who work on local newspapers and magazines. Yet, our detainment was a sign to them too. The entire media received a warning: I will do anything, I can kill people if I desire so, and you have not gotten any right to speak up about these facts. Saakashvili has already been convinced that he got all the rights, even including that of killing and torturing people. Currently, he is obsessed with spy-pathy. Whoever calls him about his real face is an enemy of state.

In short, I, Irakli Gedenidze, Shakh Aivazov and Zura Kurtsikidze fell victims of the 26 May pictures. As for the arrest of Natia Gedenidze, they wanted her to forcibly retrieve non-existent confessions from Irakli. Even though Irakli signed under absurd confessions against both his own self and us and talked nonsense, I understand and pity him. I am sure they managed to get Irakli talk whatever they wanted thanks to the factor of Natia. Their two children would have been left without a single caretaker. There was no other way left for them. I knew it the moment I heard that they both were arrested. After all, I did hope Irakli would withstand the pressure. But he could not. He faltered and abandoned us to save his family.

Saakashvili order our arrests on 26 May but they waited for some time. Otherwise everyone would have easily understood the reason behind the arrests. So, Saakashvili stayed off for a while. At work, no one had reprimanded Irakli Gedenidze about the pictures of the dead rally activists. But everyone in the Presidential press service knew about this fact. I know it from Irakli. In this short time of suspension, Saakashvili had MIA Head Vano Metrabishvili concoct the faked case against us. They invented a fantasy, an absurd scenario and accused us of spying.

All in all, by imprisoning us Saakashvili warned free media: if you choose to challenge me I would send tax officers to swarm you, close you and, if need be, have you arrested on charges of state treason.

I am innocent and being punished for telling the truth. Therefore I approach Saakashvili right here:

Mr Mikheil,

I am in detention on your personal order. I try to guess what made you irritated and why you decided to punish us. You know it very well that no one of us has done anything wrong. We were doing our professional job. Is it the reason of our punishment?

Mr Mikheil! I said once and will repeat it. I will give my life to justice and freedom of speech. I will walk out of here either dead or alive but righteous! It is this move that will wake up the Georgian media, international community and our people. I am right!!! I have not done anything in my life to harm my country!!! You know it very well!!!

Giorgi Abdaladze

 

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