Georgia : RSF seeks review of opposition TV chief’s conviction, jail sentence
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for a review of opposition TV channel director Nika Gvaramia’s unprecedented and probably politically motivated conviction for “abusing his position” at the TV channel he previously ran, for which he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. RSF is concerned about the growing threats to Independent and opposition media in Georgia.
This is the first time the head of an opposition media outlet has been given a jail sentence in Georgia. The director of Mtavari Arkhi TV, the opposition television channel he founded in 2019, Gvaramia was convicted by a court in the capital, Tbilisi, on 16 May of causing financial losses to Rustavi 2 TV, the TV channel he previously ran for eight years.
Gvaramia denies the charge of misappropriating funds that should have gone to Rustavi 2 TV and intends to appeal against his conviction.
“The severity of the verdict and sentence in a case with such a dubious basis suggests that it was politically motivated with the aim of weakening an opposition media outlet,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“In recent years, the Georgian authorities have not only displayed a certain passivity in the face of attacks on press freedom but also a readiness to obstruct the work of opposition journalists. We urge the courts to conduct an immediate independent review of Nika Gvaramia’s conviction and we call on the authorities to uphold their international obligations to ensure a safe environment for all media in Georgia.”
The prosecution said that, while heading Rustavi 2, Gvaramia broadcast ads for the Porsche car company in exchange for one of their luxury cars, thereby causing financial losses to the TV channel. While not disputing these claims in an analysis of the case, Georgia’s ombudsman, who is elected by parliament, said the prosecution had failed to produce evidence of any criminal liability.
The most popular of Georgian media outlets critical of the government, Mtavari Arkhi TV continues to broadcast despite difficulties and harassment. Gvaramia, who is also the lawyer of Georgia’s now jailed former president, Mikhail Saakashvili, is to be replaced by his deputy, the journalist Giorgi Gabunia, and by the lawyer Dimitri Sadzaglishvili, who will share the director general role.
Mtavari Arkhi TV is often the target of attacks by the authorities. In November 2021, it was fined 111,303 Lari (36,469 euros) for broadcasting videos supporting Saakashvili, an opponent of the now ruling Georgian Dream party. Representatives of this party, including deputy prime minister and culture minister Tea Tsulukiani and Tbilisi mayor Kakha Kaladze, have accosted and harassed Mtavari Arkhi TV reporters while they were covering the party’s activities.