Prosecutors in Georgia Friday unexpectedly announced they have asked for suspended sentences rather than prison time for three prominent photojournalists charged with spying for Russia.
If approved by the court, suspended sentences could see the photographers freed quickly in the latest surprise development in the high-profile spy case which has sparked daily protests in the former Soviet state.
A statement from the prosecutor's office said a plea-bargain deal had been agreed because the accused had pleaded guilty and given the authorities "information of particular importance for our national security" about Russian intelligence operations in Georgia.
"The prosecutor has recommended that they do not represent any threat to Georgia's interests at this point and has asked the court to approve a plea bargain with them and to apply suspended sentences," justice ministry spokeswoman Khatuna Iosava told AFP.
The three men, including pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili's personal photographer and a foreign ministry photographer, have confessed to obtaining confidential data from state agencies that was passed to Russian military intelligence, according to testimony released by the authorities.
US ally Georgia fought a war with neighbour Russia in 2008 and has regularly accused Moscow of running spy operations on its territory.
The prosecutor's statement said that during the investigation, the photographers had revealed the identities of Russian spies working in the country as well as the names of their Georgian collaborators and cover organisations operating on behalf of Moscow.
Iosava said that this represented "very important information about the Russian spy network in Georgia".
Presidential photographer Irakli Gedenidze, foreign ministry photographer Giorgi Abdaladze and European Pressphoto Agency employee Zurab Kurtsikidze were detained in overnight raids earlier this month, when police said they found secret documents including minutes of high-level meetings stored on computers.