Filmmakers held in separatist region of Abkhazia

New York, March 7, 2006—Authorities in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia today charged three journalists with entering the self-declared republic illegally to shoot a documentary film, local and international media reported.

Journalists Tea Sharia, Georgii Sokhadze and Teimuraza Eliava were arrested March 1 in Abkhazia, a region along the Black Sea in the northwest Caucasus.

They entered Abkhazia, which declared independence after a 1992-93 war with Georgia, to make a film about churches and monasteries in cooperation with the Georgian Orthodox Church. They were arrested while filming at Bedia monastery in the Ochamchiri region. Sharia and Sokhadze are Georgian citizens and Eliava is a Ukrainian citizen originally from Georgia.

The journalists were transferred to the coastal city of Sukhumi on March 4, and two days later United Nations officials were allowed to meet with them, the Moscow-based Internet news agency Regnum reported.

“All journalists and NGO representatives from Georgia know that they need permission to enter Abkhazia,” said the region’s self-declared foreign minister Sergei Shamba, according to Georgian state television Channel 1. “They entered without telling anyone, they came illegally without passing through a checkpoint.”

Abkhaz security officials accused the three of filming strategic sites such as bridges and railways stations. They were charged with unlawfully crossing the “border” of the self-declared republic, according to local press reports.