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Georgian embassy staffer attacks topless protesters

Half-naked political activists have been brutally dispersed by an embassy employee while protesting in Kiev in support of Georgian photo journalists accused of espionage. A local journalist is reported to have been injured during the dispersal.

­A group of girls from the Ukrainian FEMEN movement gathered in front of the Georgian embassy in Kiev on Monday, holding huge fake cameras and posters saying “No pictures – no democracy!”

During the protest, which was meant as part of an international campaign backing the Georgian photo journalists recently arrested on espionage charges, a man emerged from the embassy and attacked first the topless activists, and then one of the journalists who was taking photos of the event.

The attacker turned out to be one of the embassy employees. The correspondent, from the local Kommentarii newspaper, Aleksandr Yamkovoy, was injured as the embassy employee hit him hard on the head. He was taken to hospital.

According to FEMEN activists, the actions taken by the Georgian embassy only prove “the international community’s suspicions that official Tbilisi is media-phobic.”

“Members of the embassy demonstrated a lack of respect for all democratic values: freedom of speech, freedom of association. Thus we are even more worried about the journalists who were arrested in Georgia,” stated the FEMEN activists.

The Georgian Embassy in Kiev has reacted by firing the employee responsible for the physical abuse of the protesters and journalists.

The Embassy has also issued a statement in which it expressed “regret at the incident” and apologized to those who were injured and to the Ukrainian public in general.

Four Georgian photographers, including a photographer with the presidential administration’s press service, Irakly Gedenidze, and his wife Natiya, were charged with espionage on July 9. Natiya Gedenidze was later released on bail.

The other detainees are Zurab Kurtsikidze, a representative of the European Press Photo Agency (EPA), and Georgy Abdaladze, a photographer for the Foreign Ministry who was also working with the Associated Press.

The statement issued by the Georgian Interior Ministry said they were suspected of working for the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff. Later, all three detained photojournalists confessed they had been spying for Russia. It is suspected however the confession was made under psychological pressure. If found guilty, the photographers could face up to 12 years in prison.

Meanwhile, rallies of independent media in support of the detained photographers continue in Georgia.

Several of the country’s print and electronic publications have released their Monday issues with the word “protest” appearing instead of pictures on every page.

The Georgia Press Association, who are behind the action, have addressed the diplomatic corps and international journalists’ associations, as well as the Georgian authorities, demanding the release of the photographers on bail and that the general public be provided with compelling evidence of their guilt.

The association also expressed doubt that the photo journalists have confessed to their alleged crimes voluntarily.

The chief editor of the newspaper Resonance, Lasha Tugushi, says the Georgian media are united on the issue.

“We all have the same demands and doubts. We demand the release of the photographers on bail, the transparency of the case and public access to all of its documents,” Tugushi said.