Prime Minister's position jeopardizes independence of the media and the courts
On October 2 the Prime Minister criticized media outlets for not covering the legal case against the under-age brother of a "Rustavi 2" journalist; and for not showing solidarity with Zaza Davitaia, a journalist with Asaval-Dasavali, who reportedly was beaten by members of "Free Zone" on 30 September 2014.
The following aspects of the Prime Minister's statement raise concerns:
1. Prime Minister is thoroughly informed about the pending case of journalist's brother.
The statement leaves an impression that the Prime Minister personally monitors the case of a family member of a private media outlet, is interested in its development and media coverage of this event. The reason for the Prime Minister to take such interest in this specific case is unclear at first glance.
The Prime Minister's interest in, and awareness of details of this case could be perceived as a warning to journalists — it gives the impression that the authorities have them under special scrutiny.
2. Prime Minister publicly discusses pending case of an under-age defendant.
Public statements made by the Prime Minister on judicial proceedings of a journalist's under-age brother are unacceptable. The Prime Minister discussed a number of details that make the minor’s identification possible. The necessity of disseminating this information by the Prime Minister and thus politicizing the minor’s case is unclear. Georgian law requires legal cases that involve minors to be heard in closed court sessions, to protect the interests and rights of the minor. By providing details that allow for the identification of the minor, the Prime Minister has disregarded the minor’s rights, good practice and the reasoning behind the legislation.
3. Prime Minister has breached the principle of the presumption of innocence in the case of this under-age defendant.
The Prime Minister has discussed the crime in a proven, affirmative form. By doing so he has breached the principle of the presumption of innocence, which is is guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia, and in this instance the court has not reached its verdict on the case of this minor.
4. The Prime Minister's views may undermine the impartiality of courts.
Not only has the court not yet rendered a verdict on this case, but examination of the case on merits has not even started. Such interest of the Prime Minister in the case in these circumstances may influence the court’s examination of evidence and decision.
Further, the Prime Minister's position that the application of a non-custodial measure by the City Court against a minor "proves that courts are free today" is equally vague. If application/non-application of pre-trial detention against the under-age brother of a Rustavi 2 journalist can determine the degree of judicial independence, under the same logic the Appellate Court’s overturning the first instance ruling and applied pre-trial detention against a minor, cannot be considered evidence that the courts are free.
5. Prime Minister rebukes media outlets for covering or not covering concrete facts.
This is not the first time that the head of the Government or the press office of the Government expresses dissatisfaction with activities of media, reproaches specific media outlets and/or journalists, and instructs the media in what kind of information to cover. Yesterday's critical statement of the Prime Minister is government interference in the activities of media outlets, which is unjustifiable.
Also, it is unclear why the Prime Minister became concerned only about media outlets not showing "any solidarity" towards their colleague Zaza Davitaia. In fact, as NGOs have earlier stated, all media outlets have adequately covered this incident and the Prime Minister's criticism is exaggerated.
Editorial independence is an essential part of media activities, which implies discretionary right of media to decide by itself what is of public interest and to disseminate, or not, information on any event.
Transparency International Georgia
Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Civil Development Agency (CiDA)