Protests in Georgia: RSF concerned with rising police violence against reporters

Street protests in Georgia against a “foreign agents” law based on Russian legislation is eliciting more and more violence from the police, including against reporters. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the authorities to conduct transparent investigations into the attacks against journalists, and to repeal this law, which restricts media freedom.

More than 15 journalists have been subjected to violence or intimidation since this law – which was finally passed on third and final reading on 14 May – was resubmitted to the Georgian parliament on 3 April after being withdrawn in March as a result of protests and international pressure.

Deployed in large numbers on the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, the police have not hesitated to use violence to disperse those protesting against the law, which was submitted by the ruling Georgian Dream party and is heavily based on a Russian law designed to silence independent media outlets.

At the height of the protests on 17 April, a masked police unit using extremely violent methods chased several clearly identified journalists, then caught up with them and gave them a severe beating.

The journalists included Aleksander Keshelashvili, a reporter for Publika, a media outlet specialising in public policies; Giorgi Badridze of the independent news site TabulaGiorgi Baskhajauri of Aprili Media, a website specialising in human rights and diversity; and Azerbaijani blogger Nurlan Gahramanli. The police unit’s commander, Zviad “Khareba” Kharazishvili, is notorious for leading punitive attacks against Georgian Dream’s opponents.

“The situation in Georgia is extremely worrying. The government and Georgian Dream party are pushing ahead, the police violence is intensifying and journalists are becoming scapegoats. We call for an end to the violence, for investigations into abuses against journalists to be carried out in a transparent and independent manner, and for the withdrawal of the ‘foreign agents’ law.

Jeanne Cavelier
Head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk

The Special Investigation Service, a public entity created in cooperation with the European Union to defend human rights, voiced alarm on 7 May about the unprecedented police violence and announced an investigation into illegal police actions, including against journalists. The Georgian ombudsman also demanded an investigation by the authorities.

Harassment and intimidation

Three journalists – Niko Kokaia of the pro-opposition TV PirveliRobi Zaridze of the independent investigative news site, and Giga Gelkhvidze of the website –  were pepper-sprayed while reporting between 28 April and 1 May. Two Publika reporters, Lika Zakashvili and Mamuka Mgaloblishvili, and their TV Pirveli colleagues Nanuka Kajaia and Davit Beradze, were meanwhile prevented by police from filming or taking photos. 

As Giorgi Kldiashvili, the director of the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), was being interviewed live on 7 May by the opposition television channel TV Formula, he was attacked by an unidentified person who then also attacked the cameraman.

As well as physical violence, at least two media editors – Nino Zuriashvili of the investigative media outlet Monitori and Gela Mtivlishvili of the news site Mountain Stories – were subjected to intimidation in the form of posters showing their photos and accusing them of treason and being “foreign agents” that were plastered on the outside of their media premises.

Despite the extreme tension, journalists who do not support the Georgian Dream party continue to be accused by its representatives of being in the pay of hostile foreign governments. No fewer than 53 journalists were beaten with complete impunity by counter-demonstrators during a Gay Pride march in Tbilisi in July 2021. One of them died of his injuries a few days later.

Georgia is ranked 103rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2024 World Press Freedom Index after falling 26 places, the biggest fall registered by any country in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

103/ 180
Score : 53.05
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