Intimidation of journalists in Akhaltsikhe and Ozurgeti requires investigation and appropriate action
Transparency International Georgia responds to interference in the media and local authorities putting pressure on journalists.
In December 2014 an active Akhaltsikhe newspaper and web-portal Samkhretis Karibche reported on an alleged intimidation and threats by the local police chief in an article entitled: “Sister of the accused: Regional chief kicked me, tore my clothing and threatened me with rape”. Following its publication, Ekaterine Atoshvili, press officer of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, contacted the editor of Samkhretis Karibche Nino Namirashvili and asked her to change the title of the article. Samkhretis Karibche rejected the request. A police officer then tried to convince the journalist. In the evening of that same day another police officer who had a personal relationship with the journalist came to her and asked her repeatedly to change the heading. After the editorial staff refused to make any changes, some locals organized a demonstration against Samkhretis Karibche in front of the newspaper’s office, claiming that there was no evidence of threat by the police.
The article in Samkhretis Karibche was concerned about the acclaimed murder investigation in one of the villages of the region.
According to sister of the accused, she and her underaged daughter were physically and verbally abused and threatened with rape during the interrogation at the police station. She claims that the chief of the division, Teimuraz Kalandadze also participated in the abuse and intimidation, alongside other employees.
The employees of Samkhretis Karibche assert that after refusing to change the headline of the article, the law enforcement officers mobilized the villagers to rally. The police also tried to change the testimony of the victim’s sister. At a press conference organized by the journalists of Samkhretis Karibche atthe Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics office former political prisoner Zura Kutsishvili blamed the journalists for destabilizing the situation in the region.
Several days ago, the newly elected Mayor of Ozurgeti Municipality Beglar Sioridze insulted a reporter of Guria News. This followed a journalist’s request for information about the criteria upon which the Mayor assigned the title of the honorary Ozurgetians.
Earlier in December 2014, the former local governor of Ozurgeti Municipality Konstantine Sharashenidze insulted Guria News reporter Zhana Megrelishvili, while she tried to get a comment from him. The former governor apologized afterwards. It was not the first time when Konstantine Sharashenidze behaved aggressively towards journalists.
Ozurgeti Municipality Mayor's public relations advisor Sopho Chanturia has been regularly lambasting local journalists, including Guria News and Guria Moambe, on social networks. She has been threatening these media outlets with banning of their activities or disclosing compromising secret recordings involving them.
According to Guria News, Zhana Megrelishvili appealed to Prosecutor's Office with a request to follow up on Sopho Chanturia’s statements but they have not replied to date.
Another Guria News journalist, Nato Gogelia appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office after a Facebook page "Martali Guruli" published screenshots depicting personal correspondences made from a fraudulent account. It is unknown if there is any progress in the investigation.
Transparency International Georgia calls on the Georgian Government to:
support the investigation into police interference in activities of Samkhretis Karibche, including the possibility of physical and verbal abuse, as well as a law enforcer’s interference in media activities;
make the public officers accountable for pressuring Guria News journalists.