Uninvestigated facts of pressure on journalists
During the last year and a half, the state of media pluralism in Georgia has improved considerably and cases of pressure and violence on journalists are no longer reported. Yet, the cases of violence, pressures, insults and interferences with the activities of journalists that happened prior to the 2012 parliamentary elections remain uninvestigated.
Improper qualification and investigation of abuse of journalists' rights is identified as one of the key problems of media assessment in the reports of the Public Defender as well. Results of cases probed into by the Public Defender's office in 2013 have demonstrated that the investigative authorities have mostly correctly qualified the facts of unlawful interference with journalistic activities, including the 2012 cases (pre-election period). However, as the report states, there are still cases when - in respect of interference in journalistic activities - the investigative authorities refrain from qualifying the acts under Article 154 of the Criminal Code. Such actions are instead qualified as intentional light damage to health, beating or petty hooliganism.
We believe that after a year and a half of rule by the Coalition Georgian Dream, certain facts of violence and pressure on journalists should have been properly investigated, because any delay in identifying these offenders may foster impunity. It is therefore crucial that the law-enforcement authorities ensure rapid and effective investigation and hold the offenders accountable in all cases, whether it concerns violence against journalists, their blackmail or insult and interference with their activities.
Criminal Code, Article 154. Unlawful Interference with the Professional Activities of a Journalist
1. Unlawful interference with the professional activities of a journalist, i.e. his/her coercion into disseminating or refraining from disseminating information, shall be punishable by a fine or socially useful labor from one hundred and twenty to one hundred and forty hours in length and/or by corrective labor for up to a two-year term.
2. The same action committed through threat of violence or through the abuse of an official power, shall be punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to two years in length, by deprivation of the right to occupy a position or pursue a particular activity for the term of up to three years or without it.
In this blog post we review several high-profile cases that have not been solved by the law-enforcement authorities during the rule of either the National Movement or the Coalition Georgian Dream.
The "Batumelebi" Case
According to the weekly newspaper "Batumelebi", in November 2009 the Department of the Adjara Autonomous Republic of the Ministry of Interior's Special Operative Department (SOD) has attempted to intimidate and blackmail the newspaper's employee Tedo Jorbenadze, including "through the use of a sexual orientation stigma existing in Georgia".
Jorbenadze claims that at the meeting he was shown printed black and white photos depicting "men in underwear" and was told he was also depicted in these images. At the same meeting, he was told in addition that the intelligence services of foreign countries - of Russia and Turkey in particular - were interested in the newspaper and required his assistance and cooperation. After he had refused, Tedo Jorbenadze was warned that these images would have been sent to his ill father and colleagues and would be uploaded in Internet.
The newspaper has addressed the Prosecutor's Office with a request to investigate the case, but the case was classified and even the injured party did not have access to it.
In 2011 the newspaper disseminated information, alleging it had managed to identify the police officer participating in Jorbenadze's blackmail as a result of his journalistic investigation, and once again demanded from the Prosecutor's Office to investigate the case timely and interrogate the concerned police officer. The newspaper has addressed the then Minister of Interior Vano Merabishvili with an open letter, demanding investigation and response on the case.
Although the Batumi Prosecutor's Office has launched investigation on Tedo Jorbenadze's case, the case has not been solved. As Jorbenadze has told "Transparency International – Georgia", none of the Governments has investigated the case, and during the rule of both parties the case was classified and thus the information is inaccessible.
In an interview with "Netgazeti" three months ago the Adjara prosecutor Shota Tkeshelashvili has stated that he had taken Tedo Jorbenadze's high profile case under personal control. He said the investigation was under way but did not know when it would be completed.
In a letter sent to "Transparency International - Georgia", the Chief Prosecutor's Office noted that in respect of Tedo Jorbenadze's case, the Minister of Interior staff has launched investigation on 18 February 2010 for excess of official powers, under Section 1 of Article 333 of the Criminal Code. However, on 26 January 2013, the qualification of the case has changed and investigation continued for abusing the official powers, and in particular for insulting the injured party's personal dignity. In the same letter, the Prosecutor's Office confirms that this criminal case is classified.
The Photographers' Case
In July 2011 the Counter-Intelligence Department has detained for espionage charges four photographers - Zurab Kurtsikidze, representative of the European Photo Agency in Georgia; Irakli Gedenidze, photographer of the Press Office of the President's Administration; his wife, Natia Gedenidze, photo journalist of newspaper "Prime Time"; and Giorgi Abdaladze, photographer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. The Ministry of Interior stated they were accused of "supplying various information to an organization acting under the auspices of intelligence service of one of foreign states against the interests of Georgia, based on their official position".
By referring to the national security issues, the Ministry has "classified" the case of photographers arrested for espionage charges.
Following the fifteen-day detention, three of the four photographers arrested for espionage charges were found guilty and after the judge's approval of the plea bargain agreement between the Prosecutor's Office and the defendants, they were released from courtroom. Each of them were subjected to conditional sentencing under the trial periods.
In two months after the 2012 parliamentary elections photographer Giorgi Abdaladze has released a video footage recorded in the Gldani prison, in which a staff member of the Constitutional Security Department instructs Abdaladze to recuse his defense attorney. After the release, Abdaladze claimed also that the photographers had given law-enforcers confessionary statements under duress and influence. Abdaladze alleges the law-enforcers have extracted from him the testimony admitting espionage with duress. He claimed also that the Gldani prison staff member has made him stop a hunger strike through duress and threats. The same prison staff member said allegedly that inmates in another cell would be beaten unless he would stop his hunger strike.
In February 2013, the photographers have asked the then General Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili to reinvestigate and declassify the case. Soon after the National Probation Commission expunged the photographers' conviction and criminal record. Nevertheless, the photographers' case has neither been reinvestigated nor declassified until now.
The Case of Nodar Chachua, Journalist of 9th Channel
In July 2012, the journalist of 9th Channel Nodar Chachua (television owned by the family of then oppositionist, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili) stated that he was blackmailed by the Ministry of Interior staff.
Nodar Chachua claims the armed persons in civilian clothes have introduced themselves as the staff of some service that "resolves individual's problems but at the same time creates huge problems as well", and offered him money in exchange of information on everyday activities of the 9th Channel as well as personal information on his colleagues. Chachua alleges he was instructed also to have a sexual intercourse with one of the male employees of the 9th Channel and videotape it secretly. The journalist claimed he was threatened of being "stuffed with drugs".
In addition to the journalist and the television, the Public Defender has also addressed the Prosecutor's Office to investigate the case. In several days after Chachua's statements, the strangers have broken into his apartment and thrown things out of his closets. As Chachua says, money and valuables were left in the apartment, but the Ministry of Interior has launched investigation for "unlawful entry into an apartment and theft".
As Chachua has told "Transparency International – Georgia", the Prosecutor's Office has combined these two cases, but they still remain uninvestigated.
In the 2012 report "Transparency International – Georgia" has focused on several cases of assaulting and oppressing the journalists, the bulk of which is uninvestigated until now:
- Gela Mtivlishvili, the Head of the Kakheti and Mtskheta-Mtianeti Online Information Centers claims that the police have detained and beaten him on 20 May 2012 in Tianeti. Mtivlishvili claims the Prosecutor's Office has terminated investigation due to lack of facts.
- According to the journalist of newspaper "P.S." Irakli Vachiberidze in Kutaisi, the state security officers have beaten him twice during the two consecutive days. Vachaberidze claims he received a letter from the Prosecutor's Office after the 2012 elections, notifying him about inability to prove a crime.
- In November 2011 Gela Mtivlishvili has received an e-mail from the former regional prosecutor full of insults and personal threats. Although the Public Defender has asked to be notified about the course of investigation, he has not been provided with any information on the measures taken.
- There are 9 uninvestigated cases with TSPress alone in 2010-12, including the cases of pressure, threat and physical insult against journalists.
"Transparency International - Georgia" has officially approached the Ministry of Interior and the Chief Prosecutor's Office of Georgia with a public information request and asked for information on the progress of these cases (photographers and Nodar Chachua), but none of the agencies has responded within the statutory term of 10 business days.
G-MEDIA Program is implemented with assistance from the American people through USAID. The content of the article and opinions in it belong to "Transparency International – Georgia" and do not reflect the position of the US Government, USAID or IREX.