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Human Rights Center requests the prosecutor’s office to grant victim status to the journalists

10.10.2019

Bullet withdrawn from the body of Vakhtang Berikashvili
On June 20, 38 journalists were injured during the dispersal of the protest demonstration in Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi. The journalists of the different media organizations implemented their professional duties and cover the ongoing developments in difficult conditions. 

Before the dispersal of the protest rally, the head of the Special State Protection Service of Georgia and his allies illegally expelled the accredited journalists from the building of the Parliament and hindered them to perform their professional duties. During the dispersal of the demonstration, police officers targeted at the journalists even though it was evident that they were representatives of media and performed their duties.

HRC defends interests of four journalists injured during the dispersal of June 20 night; among them are Beslan Kmuzof (Caucasus Knot) and Merab Tsaava (Guria News), who were covering the protest demonstration. During the dispersal, they received multiple injuries in the face and needed medical assistance. 6 bullets were shot in Beslan Kmuzof, one of them in the head; rubber bullets injured the hand of Merab Tsaava and he needed surgical operation.

Journalists Vakhtang Berikashvili and Zaza Svanadze were also injured during the dispersal. Berikashvili was gravely injured by the so-called plastic and caoutchouc bullets shot by riot police officers; he was taken to hospital, where the bullet was removed from his body and now is enclosed to the case files as evidence. The photo of the bullet was disseminated in social media and caused astonishment of the civil society. 

During the dispersal, Zaza Svanadze received multiple injuries and he was also placed in hospital.

The Office of the Prosecutor General of Georgia interviewed the journalists as witnesses. In July, HRC petitioned the prosecutor’s office to provide information about ongoing investigation of these cases. The organization also requested to grant victim status to the injured journalists.

The investigation should have commenced into interference in the professional activities of the journalists punishable under the Article 154 of the Criminal Code of Georgia but the Office of the Prosecutor General started the investigation for the abuse of professional power by police officers under the Article 333 Part III – “b” of the CCG. 

According to the most recent information, the Office of the Prosecutor General granted victim status to 67 police officers and 4 demonstrators. However, the citizens, who were gravely injured by unidentified bullets, have not received the victim status so far. Consequently, the society doubts over the partiality of the investigation and wonders whether there is political will to conduct the process fairly. 

Human Rights Center calls on the Office of the Prosecutor General of Georgia:

- to conduct investigation over the criminal cases under the Article 154 of the CCG, which refers to the interference in the professional activities of journalists;

- to conduct comprehensive and impartial investigation and impose criminal liability over the perpetrators;

- to grant victim status to the citizens who received the injuries as a result of the dispersal of June 20, 2019 protest demonstration in accordance to the Article 56 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia.
 
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