TBILISI, DFWatch – Police in Georgia Friday intervened in the work of several independent journalists, but let the government-controlled TV work freely.
The victims were covering the discovery of an explosive device in the center of Zugdidi, a town in western Georgia.
Photos and video taken by the journalists was completely erased by police.
In the morning that day, there was reported the discovery of an explosive device near Zugdidi Prosecutor’s office. But when the journalists came there to cover what was happening, police intervened. They took the camera away from Tamar Zantaria, a reporter for Livepress. Later they returned the camera to her, but the memory card had been removed, so she couldn’t continue shooting.
Afterwards, the police took the camera away from Oto Dalakishvili, a reporter for the online newspaper Netgazeti.
He says that he was asked if he had a permit to use his camera and he presented his permit; however as soon as he started recording, a person dressed in civilian clothes approached him and deleted all the camera’s recordings.
“I was shooting the perimeter, which was allowed to, and I didn’t even want to go through the cordon, but they still deleted my material.”
Tamar Zantaria, from the local website Livepress, says she came to the prosecutor’s office to record a video while there already were cameramen from the national broadcasters Rustavi 2, Imedi and Public Broadcaster, and they were filming without any hindrance. When she started recording, Ruslan Shamakhia, an official from Zugdidi police district, told four policemen who were standing there: ‘Why is she recording? Take away her camera.’
“I protested, saying that I have a right to work in a public space, but they took away my camera and removed the the memory card. ‘Don’t return this card! Buy a new one for her!’ Shamakhia yelled, and told me that they would provide me with footage shot by them.”
Zantaria says journalists for the national channels didn’t have any problems working there. Therefore it is unclear on whose orders and why police interfered in the work of reporters only from Netgazeti and Livepress.
After the incident, the journalists went to the Public Defender’s office in Zugdidi and delivered a memo about how they had had their working conditions restricted.
On May 3, members of the President’s guard denied Iza Salakia, a reporter of TS Press, the right to record a visit of Mikheil Saakashvili to Poti. Saakashvili arrived in order to open a new hospital in the city. The presidential guard took away the journalist’s handbag and forcefully removed her. Later the guards threw her camera and personal things in the yard. The camera’s memory card was lost, reported TS Press, a news website covering Samegrelo, one of the largest regions in western Georgia.
The journalist says she presented her press card to the guards before entering the building. But on orders of Irma Nadirashvili, head of the president administration guard, didn’t give her an opportunity to continue her journalistic activity. They turned off her camera.
The news website appealed to the president’s administration, the police, the ombudsman’s office and the international community.
Natia Bandzeladze from the president’s press office denies that the incident took place and refuses to comment.
On May 2, another instance of violation of journalists’ rights was reported in Kutaisi, a city in western Georgia. The guards protecting President Saakashvili and his interior minister Vano Merabishvili kicked one journalist in the head.