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Weeping Journalists

14.11.2007
Law enforcement began operations against journalists on the morning of November 7th.

Journalists covering ongoing events in front of the Georgian Parliament had their cameras seized. David Usupashvili, one of the leaders of Republican Party, points out that many reports were made by foreign journalists who, upon seeing the treatment of  Georgian journalists, left the area in order to save their taken materials.

The Human Rights Center interviewed journalists who were injured during the chaos of November 7. Gas poisoning is not considered an injury because it affected both the journalists and ordinary people in a similar fashion.

It is worth mentioning that law enforcement used other means against journalists outside of the street fracas. The most vivid example is the attack and shut down of the Imedi TV station. Besides Imedi, Radio Imedi, Kavkasia TV and TV-25 in Batumi were also taken off air. Government representatives give little other justification for such actions besides claiming that these TV companies have tried to destabilize the Georgian society with their anti-government calls.

Inga Grigolia, Imedi Anchor recalls the details of the attack on Imedi in an interview with the Rezonansi newspaper. In it she says:

“I never imagined I could be so afraid. When they invaded the building, all of us were forced to lay on the floor— even the pregnant girls. They seized our mobiles and made us leave the building little by little. At first we thought that this was our government’s final act, but it was exactly at this time that special forces entered from Lubliana Street, usually illuminated except on this night, and began to treat Imedi journalists in the same way as the Rike and Rustaveli demonstrators were treated. The truncheons, tear gas and rubber bullets were used against us. I felt ill and had problems breathing. Our producer got the time, took me out and threw me into the nearby woods. I fell somewhere in a hole. Somehow, I managed to get out of it. We were running and they were shooting rubber bullets and tear gas after us. Some merciful person sheltered me, along with other Imedi journalists, including the nine months pregnant Diana Trapaidze. An ambulance was called but people were so afraid that they would not allow the ambulance to bring me in hospital and thought that something would happen to me. I told them I trusted the doctors and followed them to the Central Hospital where the medical personnel gave me a blood transfusion. By dawn, I felt better and was no longer in shock. They utilized these methods against us. I saw my junior colleague in the Central Hospital with her head broken by truncheon. Unfortunately TV companies failed to cover these facts.”

Before the attack on Imedi TV, journalists tasted the bitterness of truncheons, rubber bullets and tear gas in Rike square and on Rustaveli Avenue.

Goga Kvrivishvili, camera operator for TV station Trialeti: “I was covering the events developing on Rustaveli Avenue. I was covering everything, including how they were beating fallen people and how they were using tear gas against ordinary people. Suddenly one of the police officers seized me from behind by my jacket and threw me into the crowd of police. They crept me about 10 meters. When I shouted and told them that I was TV journalist they responded ‘that’s why we are taking the camera from you.’ They beat me with truncheons and kicked me. I was unconscious for some time. When I came to my senses I was in the Kashueti Church. I got into someone’s car and went to the Imedi TV station. There, an ambulance was called out and I was brought to a hospital with one of the Imedi camera operators. Our board of directors demanded the police return our cameras but no one has given anything back.”

Irakli Gedenidze, photographer: “After the first attack, I was standing on Rustaveli Avenue looking over the photos I had just taken. Suddenly, a black jeep (with the license AXA 461) hit me. Eyewitnesses tell me the car deliberately drove towards me. Notwithstanding my injuries and gas inhilation, I have gone on working.”

Sopho Mdinaradze, correspondent for Public Broadcasting: “I was on Rustaveli Avenue during the attack. People began throwing the stones towards the Special Forces and one of these struck my head and I had to go to the hospital. I also, like everyone else, was poisoned by gas.”

Giga Makarashvili, Public Broadcasting: “I was standing near the Kashueti Church when they started to launch the gas. Approximately 4-5 canisters fell near me. An old woman fell down and I went to help her. I covered my face with my coat, but one of the canisters had fallen exactly at my side. I lost consciousness almost instantly. When I came to I was in the hospital.”

Natia Mikiashvili, correspondent for Imedi: “I asked my camera operator to shoot some footage. At this point there were no people on Baratashvili Bridge. Suddenly, I saw the Special Forces officers. Two of them chased us, shooting rubber bullets. Law enforcement tried to interfere with our cameras and not allow us to shoot footage. We knew our government intended to attack Imedi TV. As a result, from the morning of November 7th Imedi journalists were expecting Special Forces to invade the station. During the demonstrations, Levan Tabidze, one of our journalists, was beaten by a Special Forces officer. This officer told him, “Wait for us tonight and then you will see what will happen with your TV station.”

Nino Jangirashvili, the head of the Information Department of the Kavkasia TV station, said that before their company was shut down, a representative of the government came to their office and gave them an ultimatum: if they kept silent they would be paid as much money as they demanded, but if not, riot police would raid their company. Broadcasts were eventually suspended for an unidentified period of time.

Russian and American journalists were injured along with their Georgian counterparts on November 7th. A Photo-correspondent for the New York Times was injured. Salome Zurabishvili, the leader of the political party Sakartvelos Gza (Georgia’s Way) stated the photographer was hit by stone, had his camera seized and broken. “Police have not launched a criminal case yet,” Zurabishvili said. “When I demanded they start an investigation, they said they needed proof of the incident. That evidence was in the photographer’s now destroyed camera.”

Yesterday, Georgian news agencies published exerpts from MP Giga Bokeria’s interview to the New York Times. He discussed the current events in Georgia and the situation with Imedi TV. Bokeria did not rule out that Imedi would not renew its activities after the state of emergency ends. More precisely, the MP said that law enforcement was investigating the criminal activities of the TV station because of a suspected criminal alliance with Badri Patarkatsishvili and their provoking of public disorder.

The European Commercial TV Association, acting on behalf of TV stations in 34 countries, expressed their deep concern with the suspension of Imedi TV’s broadcasts and the imposition of restrictions on other independent TV stations that prevents them from broadcasting news.

The Association’s representatives call on the European Union to tell the Georgian government that independent media sources cannot be shut down in Europe at present. 

According to Ross Biggam, the Director-General of the European Commercial TV Association, there is no circumstance in any democratic society that would justify using the military police and force to shut down a TV station broadcasting live. He declared that a pluralistic media is the cornerstone of European democracy. He hopes that European institutions will condemn this unacceptable act and that Georgia will soon return to a more European and democratic development.

In parallel, the Georgian Public Defender, Sozar Subari called upon the Georgian government to restore the activities of the TV-Radio Company Imedi, which was illegally shut down.

The Human Rights Center got in touch with Inga Grigolia, a journalist with Imedi, who asked the Center herself how their company should continue its activities. She added that, “in any case, we will do our best to restore the right to free expression in the country.”

Nino Tarkhnishvili, Tbilisi

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