Georgia vigorously defended the arrest of three photojournalists suspected of spying, saying Friday they conducted a "serious infiltration of our institutions."
Rights activists in the former Soviet republic have raised freedom-of-speech concerns over Thursday's detentions of the three, including the personal photographer of President Mikhail Saakashvili. An Interior Ministry statement said they were accused of providing information to a special service of an unspecified foreign country to the detriment of Georgia's interests.
The three passed written documents to a spying network run by an unspecified country, Saakashvili's spokeswoman Manana Manjgaladze said. No charges have been filed.
Georgia has repeatedly accused Russia, with whom it fought a brief but costly war in 2008, of conducting espionage and trying to organize terrorist attacks in Georgia.
"There is one point I should make very clear: this case is about a serious infiltration of our institutions," Manjgaladze said in a statement. "It is possible they will be charged for passing confidential information."
The ministry statement identified the suspects as Irakli Gedenidze, the photographer for Saakashvili; Zurab Kurtsikidze of the European Pressphoto Agency and Foreign Ministry photographer Georgy Abdaladze. Gedenidze's wife also was arrested.
Kurtsikidze's attorney, Nino Andriashvili, told The Associated Press that her client says he is innocent. She declined to comment further. Abdaladze's lawyer, Ramaz Chinchaladze, told Georgia's Rustavi-2 television that he is innocent.
Chinchaladze read aloud a statement from Abdaladze, the Foreign Ministry photographer, to reporters.
"I have never betrayed my homeland with my work. I consider this all to be insanity and do not consider myself guilty," Chinchaladze quoted Abdaladze as saying.
Associated Press photographer Shakh Aivazov was also detained Thursday, but was released after several hours without being charged. Aivazov had his computer and computer discs seized after security forces entered his home before dawn Thursday, and was still awaiting the return of the equipment Friday.
Abdaladze, a contract photographer, also has worked as a stringer for the AP, most recently covering clashes between police and protesters in Tbilisi in May.
The non-governmental Center for Human Rights said the detentions were an attack on media freedoms and demanded the photographers' release.
Several people have been convicted recently by Georgian courts on charges of spying for Russia. In the most recent such ruling late Wednesday, a court in the Black Sea port of Batumi convicted a Russian citizen and eight Georgians of espionage and gave them prison sentences ranging from 11 to 14 years.
Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told Russian Ekho Moskvy radio Wednesday that his agency captured most of the Russian spies operating in Georgia, but is still tracking a few who are left.
The spy flaps have aggravated already tense relations between the two former Soviet republics. Russia has dismissed the spy arrests in Georgia as a fabrication.
Under Saakashvili's leadership, Georgia has strongly cultivated relationships with the West has said it aims to join NATO.
In a brief comment Friday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said "I think we would say here what we say to the Georgian government and to governments around the world privately _ that we expect a free, fair, accountable, transparent judicial proceeding in this case and in others."