Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for a thorough and transparent investigation into an alleged plot to murder Georgian TV journalist Giorgi Gabunia using a suspected Russian hitman who was arrested in Georgia last week, and urges the Georgian authorities to provide Gabunia with close protection.
“The Georgian secret services have foiled a very serious crime,” Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced yesterday, referring to the arrest of a Russian citizen allegedly sent to murder Gabunia in reprisal for his insulting comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin during a news programme on an opposition TV channel in July 2019.
According to Formula TV, which quoted an intelligence source, and to the director-general of Mtavari Arkhi TV, the channel for which Gabunia works, the alleged hitman from Ingushetia, in the Russian Caucasus, arrested on 12 June, was sent by Ramzan Kadyrov, who rules Ingushetia’s neighbour, the autonomous Chechen Republic, with an iron hand.
In a post on Telegram on 16 June, Kadyrov denied that he ordered the hit, boasting that if someone had been acting on his orders, they would have been carried out. And he added: “Giorgi Gabunia had better go down on his knees and ask for forgiveness… Or else he will, I repeat, remain my enemy."
A loyal ally of President Putin, Kadyrov often threatens journalists and tries to silence critics, even those abroad. Gabunia hired bodyguards last year after being threatened by Kadyrov. “Death squads” from the Russian Caucasus have repeatedly targeted Chechen diaspora critics in Europe. Earlier this year, a Chechen blogger was murdered in the French city of Lille and another was attacked in Sweden.
“No matter how outrageous and shocking, Giorgi Gabunia’s comments do not in any way justify a murder attempt or threats,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We ask the Georgian authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into this affair, in complete independence from the Russian authorities, and to do everything necessary to guarantee Gabunia’s safety.”
Georgia is ranked 60th out of 180 countries, and Russia 149th, in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.