TBILISI, DFWatch – The popular newspaper Alia, which has been published in Georgia since 1995, has been fined about USD 30 000 for libel against a well-known actor.

The newspaper printed an article which accused actor Otar Koberidze, a favorite of President Mikheil Saakashvili, of pedophilia and indecent acts with minors.

The editorial staff of the newspaper considers the fine illegal and says the newspaper won’t be able to pay this amount of money, as it will lead to bankruptcy.

Zviad Koridze, head of Georgian Journalists’ Ethic Charter, tells DF Watch that it’s the first case in Georgia of a newspaper being fined for libel.

“There have been cases when people appealed in court against newspapers for libel and abuse of [a person’s] dignity, but in all these cases media outlets won,” he says, “I can remember Zurab Zhvania’s appeal against Tavisufali Gazeti and a recent case against Asaval Dasavali newspaper, but the newspapers won those cases.”

The appeals court instructed Alia newspaper to publish the court’s decision in full in the newspaper and pay 50 000 lari compensation to Otar Koberidze within a month.

The story started in the fall of 2011. The actor took Alia Holding to Tbilisi City Court for abuse of reputation and libel. The basis for his case was a series of articles published in that same summer which claimed that he was a convicted pedophile. But his lawyer presented material proving that Koberidze had no connection to the case which Alia was referring to.

Tbilisi City Court did not agree with Koberidze, but the appeals court, however, overturned the city court’s decision.

Newspaper Alia published a statement on its website in which the newspaper responded to recent events.

“This is Misha’s decision in the name of court and justice!”

Alia believes that the newspaper was fined for publishing the truth.

„Material which is published in our editions is based on quotes from specific respondents and specific documents and if the court considers the bitter truth libel, this is not but their own problem,” the newspaper statement says, adding that it will be better if the court found problems within the court and not in the newspapers, which publish the truth.

Alia Holding believes that the reason for the fine is that newspaper Alia always exposed the government and its favorites.

Solidarity for Freedom of the Media supported Alia and calls these events a new tool for fighting against the media through financial terror. Many Georgian media outlets are part of this organization, which considers that if case does not end in favor of Alia, any information provided by a respondent for any quote may become grounds to fine any independent edition or television station.

Newspaper Alia plans to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.