CPJ condemns government raid on independent TV station

New York, October 31, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists today denounced a government raid on the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2.

On October 30, some 30 agents from Georgia’s National Security Ministry raided Rustavi-2’s headquarters in the capital, Tbilisi, in an effort to obtain the station’s financial records. Rustavi-2 is Georgia’s most influential and respected independent television station, known for its exposés of government corruption and other abuses of authority.

“We condemn this blatant effort to intimidate Rustavi-2,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Georgian officials must understand that harassing local media outlets will merely increase the public scrutiny they seem so anxious to avoid.”

Raid follows threats
National Security Ministry officials claimed the station was suspected of not paying some 1 million laris (US$ 480,000) in taxes, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported. But according to the station manager, Nika Tabatadze, tax authorities audited and cleared the station a week ago.

Several days prior to the raid, Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze publicly threatened Rustavi-2, according to local sources. Targamadze accused Rustavi-2 of “conspiring” against the Interior Ministry and threatened to “knock them on their back,” the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported.

Targamadze’s threat came in response to recent allegations about corruption in the Interior and National Security ministries that were made on the Rustavi-2 program “Night Courier.”

“In the past few days we had direct threats to us from the Minister of Internal Affairs. They said we have gone too far and will be stopped,” said Akaki Gogichaishvili, head of Rustavi-2’s popular “60 Minutes” news program, in a telephone interview with CPJ this morning.

Gogichaishvili attributed the raid to Rustavi-2’s coverage of the restive Pankisi Gorge region, near the Chechen border, where kidnapping and drug smuggling flourish.

In the weeks prior to the raid, Rustavi-2 had also reported extensively on allegations that Georgia was harboring Chechen rebels.

News of raid sparks strong local reaction
Rustavi-2 responded to the raid by broadcasting live the standoff between security agents and station officials outside its office in the center of Tbilisi, local sources reported.

Once news of the raid spread throughout Tbilisi, members of Parliament and local nongovernmental organizations immediately criticized the government crackdown. Hundreds of Rustavi-2 supporters gathered outside the station in an effort to prevent further government actions, according to news reports.

Today, thousands of protesters gathered in central Tbilisi to protest the raid, RFE/RL reported. President Shevardnadze, meanwhile, accepted the resignation of National Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze over the Rustavi-2 affair. Sheverdnadze also instructed Prosecutor General Gia Meparshvili to investigate the legality of the raid, local sources reported.