Web Portal on Human Rights in Georgia

Press-Conference at the Human Rights Center – “Taking Photos in Georgia Is Becoming a Serious Problem”

24.05.2012

Tamta Beliashvili

On May 21, the Human Rights Center gave a press conference on the harassment and maltreatment of journalist Gela Mtivlishvili, editor-in-chief of the Information Center of Kakheti and founder of the Information Center of Mtskheta-Mtianeti, in the Tianeti police station on May 20. The journalist himself and the chairman of the Georgian Bar Association, Zaza Khatiashvili, also attended the press-conference.

Gela Mtivlishvili was locked in the police station for one hour. He was beaten and insulted; police officers seized his video camera and deleted footage from it. At the press-conference, the Human Rights Center released a special statement regarding the incident.

Gela Mtivlishvili said he had arrived in Tianeti to prepare a news story for which he needed a photo of the police station. A stranger in plain clothes, who had none of the identifying signs of a police officer, waved at Mtivlishvili and demanded that he approach the police station. The journalist did not obey the demand and the stranger instead approached Mtivlishvili himself and requested that he show his documents.

Gela Mtivlishvili said at the press-conference that he showed the documents to the stranger –his journalist’s certificate, ID card, and driver’s license. However, the person, who was not in police uniform, did not show his police identification card to the journalist. A moment later two police officers joined the stranger and together they dragged the journalists towards the police station, a distance of 50-60 meters. As a result of the physical and verbal assault Gela Mtivlishvili needed medical assistance.

Zaza Khatiashvili of the Bar Association, who expressed solidarity with the journalist, said that the May 20 incident amounts to a criminal offence. He urged journalists to unite to defend not only Gela Mtivlishvili’s rights but their own too.

“I have already requested that Mikheil Saakashvili be declared persona non grata and barred from entering EU territory. You, the journalists, should also take urgent measures because Gela Mtivlishvili’s case will not be the last of this nature. This particular case is not the real problem, but instead it is that the government has created a flexible system. Media representatives should unite and protect each others’ rights. We have evidence of harassment of Gela Mtivlishvili’s but no one will investigate the case. And journalists will stay silent until another incident occurs, and then the cycle will repeat endlessly. You should join each other, like you united in the photo-reporters’ case, go to the Ministry of Justice and demand that they launch an investigation . Standing aside will not do much good because one day you might find yourself in Gela Mtivlishvili’s place,” Zaza Khatiashvili told journalists at the press-conference.

Executive Director of the Human Rights Center, Ucha Nanuashvili, said that the statement released by the MIA on Gela Mtivlishvili’s case is cynical and noted that investigating and resolving this incident is a kind of test for the MIA.

Ucha Nanuashvili: “We waited a day for the governmental institutions to respond to this incident, to start an investigation and interrogate any witness or the victim himself. The MIA had enough time to publicly announce the launch of an investigation. Unfortunately, we were wrong and today we are releasing this special appeal. It is alarming that taking a photo in this country is becoming a serious problem. Last year, several people were labeled Russian spies for having taken photos. This year, we witness it again – a journalist was subjected to physical and verbal abuse in a police station for having taken a photo and recorded some video footage. The most alarming and sad part of these cases is the follow-up process. I mean the reaction from the MIA and investigating agencies which is quite cynical in its approach to the incidents. Instead of investigating the crimes, they spread insulting statements about the victimized journalists. The MIA alleged that Gela Mtivlishvili was taken to the police station in order to identify him after which he refused to leave the station; it is an inadequate and cynical statement. I would like to call upon the MIA to immediately start an impartial investigation into this matter.”

Hridc.tv’s video-story about the press-conference

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