Three journalists and four media companies filed an administrative lawsuit at Tbilisi city court Tuesday morning against Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, asking to be compensated for the injuries they sustained in the night of May 26, when police violently dispersed a protest rally ahead of an Independence Day parade.
The journalists presented the court with a list of ten witnesses they say can confirm that police beat them and damaged their equipment in the tumultous night and ask to be compensated for the financial loss they have suffered as a result of damage to property and health damage.
The complainants are journalists Tazo Kupreishvili and Konstantine Stalinski from Netgazeti.ge, and Nato Gogelia from Guria News agency. Also part of the claim are the media units Newspaper Batumelebi Ltd, Chokhatauri Messenger Ltd, News Ltd and Radio Centre Plus Ltd.
At today’s preparatory meeting the judge accepted the plaintiffs’ request to let the ten witnesses testify when the trial starts, witnesses they say will confirm the fact that the journalists had their cameras taken and were beaten by police.
The claimants showed the judge video footage of Stalinski being shot with rubber bullets, as well as medical statements detailing the journalist’s injuries, Tazo Kupraishvili told DFwatch. According to him, Nino Tsotsonava, who represented Georgia’s Internal Ministry at the court, did not resist the decision to let the witnesses testify, but the ministry wanted more time to prepare an appeal.
The plaintiffs’s are being represented by the center of legal protection of media in Georgian Young Lawyer’s Assosiation (GYLA), a legal advocacy group based in Tbilisi.
“They took my camera and I was beaten by the police,” Kupraishvili remembers. “Then I received medical treatment and I demand compensation for the financial losses.”
Before today’s lawsuit in Tbilisi City Court, four journalists from Netgazeti have repeatedly complained to the Chief Prosecutor’s office and requested that there is a criminal investigation for interference in journalistic work, but the Prosecutor’s office has not yet responded.
The next preparatory hearing is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. on October 26.
The police used water cannons, teargas and rubber bullets to disperse a peaceful anti-government protest in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi shortly after midnight on May 26.
Authorities warned the protesters just before the midnight that their permission to demonstrate had expired and they had to break up the demonstration in order to clear Rustaveli Avenue for the planned Independence Day military parade later during the day.
Two people died during the violence, one policeman and one protester. The next day two more dead bodies were found on top of a small shop next to a nearby metro station. The Ministry of Internal Affairs maintains that their death is unrelated to the violence and that they died from electric shock, while GYLA has presented evidence which seems to indicate that at least one of the bodies was a protester who was beaten to death by police, the implication being that his body was later placed on the rooftop to cover up the true causes of his death.