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.