TBILISI, DFWatch – For three days, journalists from Kutaisi in the west of Georgia have been complaining about harassment by the President and Interior Minister’s guards.
On May 2, president Mikheil Saakashvili was giving a speech at the city’s theatre.
Nodar Jojua, correspondent for the news agency Pirweli, says that even though he had a permit from Natia Bandzeladze, head of the president’s press office, the guards didn’t let him attend the event. Other journalists had the same problem, representing Versia, Radio Kalaki, Maestro TV, and the local papers Akhali Gazeti and P.S. He says local journalists were forcefully thrown out, as they were cursing and kicking.
“They let journalists from the national channels Rustavi 2, Channel 1 and Imedi in before us, and when we asked what right they had to deny us entry, they yelled ‘get out of here, you don’t have right, only these channels are let in here’,” Jojua remembers.
Irakli Vachiberidze, journalist at the newspaper Kutaisi P.S, says he saw that only members of ruling party were taken to the event. He lied and pretended to be a party member and managed to get in. But when he saw that one woman was forcefully taken away by a guard yelling ‘you are not a national movement member and what are you doing here’ – he started shooting a video of this incident, when the guard approached him, cursed, beat him, deleted the footage and threw him out of the hall.
The same journalist says that the next day, May 3, World Press Freedom Day, he became a victim of physical harassment from members of the state guard.
Vachaberidze says that at Opera Theatre, where the Interior Minister was holding a closed meeting with activists from the National Movement and the local government, members of the guard of the influential minister Vano Merabishvili beat him.
The journalist remembers that one of the representatives of the local government recognized him and he was thrown out from the event. Outside, members of minister’s guard trampled on him and kicked him in the head.
“Such a great person, Vano Merabishvili, attends the meeting and how did you dare record it? They threw my equipment out and yelled if I report about this incident, they will wait for me in the streets and beat me so that no one will learn about it,” he said, adding that members of Kutaisi council – Davit Gogisvanidze and Kakha Nemsitsveridze witnessed his beating, also the head of Kutaisi City Hall; but afterwards they denied having seen the incident.
The journalist contacted the Tbilisi-based legal advocacy group Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association and is going to complain to the Prosecutor’s Office.
Giorgi Tughushi, Georgia’s Public Defender who has some sway in the country, has started studying the incidents with violations against journalists in Kutaisi and says he will react appropriately when these inquiries are completed.
Shota Utiashvili, head of the Department for Analysis of the Interior Ministry, says that the local government representatives deny having physical harassed the journalists.
“They say they only threw out those journalists from the hall who had sneaked into the meeting.”
Utiashvili notes that if a journalist wants to prove that there was harassment, the correct way will be to gain document from an expert, who will confirm physical injuries and then complain to the Interior Ministry or the prosecutor or to the courts.