Three filmmakers released from prison in breakaway region

New York, March 28, 2006—Authorities in the breakaway region of Abkhazia released three filmmakers on Saturday after detaining them for three weeks on charges of entering the self-declared republic illegally, according to local and international press reports.

Abkhazian authorities handed over journalists Tea Sharia, Georgii Sokhadze and Teimuraza Eliava to Georgian authorities at a bridge over the Inguri River, which forms part of the administrative boundary between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. Sergey Bagapsh, the self-declared president of the Abkhazia, ordered the journalists released following negotiations with Georgian presidential adviser Irakli Alasania.

Sharia, Sokhadze, and 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.

Abkhazian authorities arrested the three journalists on March 4 while they were filming at Bedia monastery in the Ochamchiri region and transferred them to the region’s self-declared capital of Sukhumi on the Black Sea coast.

On March 7, Abkhazian authorities charged the three filmmakers with espionage and entering the region illegally. The Sukhumi City Court tried and convicted the journalists on the same day, sentencing them to three months in prison. A Georgian lawyer was not allowed to represent them, local media reported. Abkhaz security officials accused the three of filming strategic sites such as bridges and railway stations.