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Optional Justice for Journalists

Irakli Managadze

We live in the country of paradoxes. If you serve the government completely, you are secure; but if you serve it only partially, you are in danger and if you say the truth, you will be hushed up. Several days ago,a very funny incident happened. The Ministry of Internal Affairs arrested a certain Nikoloz Chikhradze for sending a threatening letter to Levan Kubaneishvili, Director General of the Public Broadcasting; meanwhile, tens of journalists are threatened, kidnapped and beaten in Georgia.

Tbilisi City Court found Nikoloz Chikhradze guilty of “interfering in the professional activities of Levan Kubaneishvili by sending a threatening letter and sentenced him to prison for 6 months. Besides that, according to the press-release, the City Court signed a plea bargain with Chikhradze.

On April 30, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that they had arrested Chikhradze who had sent a threatening letter on April 26 where he “threatened Kubaneishvili and his family members.” The MIA also distributed a video recording of Chichradze in which he confessed having threatened Kubaneishvili. Chichradze said: “I threatened him because I do not like this person. Because he is the director-general of the Public Broadcasting the information has been reported only partially.”

Nobody claims that a person who threatened Kubaneishvili should not be punished but the optional principle of the court about “interfering in professional activities” is curious. So, since Kubaneishvili is the director general of the PB he is protected, but Natia Rokva, (correspondent for the regional newspaper “Batumelebi”) Nato Gogelia and Giorgi Girkelidze (regional newspaper “Guria News) are not protected because they are writing and telling only the truth.

We kindly remind Vano Merabishvili, Minister of Internal Affairs about those infamous facts of beating journalists as being like “Temida Blinded Her Eyes” to the beatings.

Several days ago, Ramaz Samkharadze, the founder and director of the regional Radio Station “Hereti”,was seriously beaten. The organizer of the physical assault was Davit Kapanadze, former single mandate candidate from Lagodekhi district. He did not like the news-release prepared by the Kakheti radio station “Hereti” about his past activities. Kapanadze,together with his allies, met Samkharadze and assaulted him. Although a criminal investigation was launched into the incident, Gurjaani district prosecutor’s office dropped the investigation because there was no evidence of the crime in the case materials. Former MP Davit Kapanadze, who was accused of persecuting people for their opinion in 2008, was assigned as a deputy head of the administration of the Chamber of Control.

Anton Khundadze, chairperson of the Chokhatauri municipality board, threatened Nato Gogelia and Giorgi Girkelidze, correspondents for the Guria region newspaper “Guria News” after the journalists prepared and published critical letters about his activities.

Chief editor of the newspaper, Ia Mamaladze, petitioned law enforcement bodies, governmental agencies, local and internal human rights organizations to protect the inviolability of the journalists. Except non-governmental organizations nobody replied to their petition. Anton Khundadze still keeps his position.

On January 23, 2009 officers from the Special Operative Department arrested Natia Rokva, a journalist for the newspaper “Batumelebi”. She witnessed a special operation and took several photos. After her release the journalist said to the Human Rights Center: “I was traveling along Gorgasali Street (former Era Street), Batumi by public transport. I saw officers of the SOD carrying out a special operatio--masked people were throwing things out of the windows of the residential building. I got off the transport and took photos. Officers of the SOD approached me and demanded to erase my photos; I did not obey them so they took me to the high-ranking official of the department who was at the place as well. They made me sit in the car and then declared that I was arrested. I was taken to the building of the Counter Intelligence and then they set me free.”

Regarding the incident, the newspaper “Batumelebi” appealed to the prosecutor’s office of the Adjara Autonomous Republic and requested it to start an investigation of the law enforcers who intimidated the journalist. The prosecutor’s office did not start an investigation. The editorial board of the newspaper received a letter which states: “It is concluded that a crime was not committed against Natia Rokva, journalist for the “Batumelebi”. Consequently, there is no ground to launch an investigation.”

Malkhaz Basilaia, a journalist for the Radio “Fortuna”, was initially a hostage of Abkhazians and then of the Georgian side. Unidentified people kidnapped the hero journalist and beat him severely. He told the Human Rights Center: “Seven people were beating me ruthlessly; they compelled me to confess espionage but I do not know what kind of espionage they demanded from me to confess. They were repeating to me: ‘Has the honor award granted by Saakashvili gone to your head? It will not save you; you must confess’. Two uniformed people who supplied me with food were ‘whispering”’ to me to confess espionage; otherwise I would be killed.”

  This is the short list of harassment of journalists. When the government permanently speaks about the “dialogue” instead they should have those incidents investigated. As for Nikoloz Chikhradze who threatened Levan Kubaneishvili, it was difficult to find out his personal history. The opposition claims that he is not a member of any political party or an activist. Journalists could not guess who his attorney is. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the court did not make any additional comments on the matter.

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