While corruption and crime continued to overrun Georgia in 2002, some officials blamed the country’s woes on excessive press freedom, even accusing the media of contributing to the February suicide of Security Council chief Nugzar Sadzhaya. Public figures readily chastised the press for exposing inadequacies in President Eduard Shevardnadze’s government. Shevardnadze himself publicly lamented past attacks on journalists, but the perpetrators of these crimes, which included violent assaults and assassinations, were not brought to justice.
In February, and again in May, gunshots were fired at the offices of the independent television station Rustavi-2, based in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. No one was injured. Rustavi-2 staff linked the incidents to the station’s reporting on corruption and crime, though police investigations have produced no results.
In July, unidentified individuals attacked the offices of the Liberty Institute, a local nongovernmental organization that defends press freedom and human rights, destroying property and seriously injuring staff, including a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent. Authorities detained an extremist associated with an ultra-Christian Orthodox group in connection to the attack, but he was later released.
The inquiry into the 2001 murder of Georgy Sanaya, a popular anchor for Rustavi-2, progressed slowly. Throughout 2002, state officials, including President Shevardnadze, declared the investigation concluded, but they have released little information about the crime. Law enforcement authorities insist that the murder was not politically motivated and that Grigol Khurtsilava, a former police officer who was arrested in December 2001, committed the crime. However, the journalist’s family and colleagues believe that he was killed for his work.
Journalists continue to have limited access to Georgia’s lawless Pankisi Gorge, a haven for refugees and rebels from the neighboring Russian region of Chechnya who sometimes conduct incursions across the porous border. The gorge remained a point of friction between the two neighbors; Georgia accused Russia of violating its borders, while Russia accused Georgia of harboring terrorists.
Following the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States, Georgian authorities sometimes justified harassment of the press as part of an effort to combat terrorism. In late March, officials arrested Islam Saidayev, editor of the newspaper Chechenskaya Pravda, on suspicion of having links to neighboring Chechen and international terrorists. Saidayev’s lawyer maintained that his client’s contacts were professional. On June 25, a court authorized the journalist’s release.
Media-related legislative efforts also made the news in Georgia during 2002. On May 20, the Civil Society Representatives of Georgia, a group of 18 representatives from local civic organizations, released a statement condemning the Justice Ministry’s draft amendments to the Criminal Code, which, among other measures, impose longer jail sentences for defaming government officials. The statement also accused the government of stalling public television reform. Meanwhile, the government announced plans in December to prepare a draft law on television and radio broadcasting, which would create public television, a requirement of the Council of Europe, a pan-European intergovernmental organization to which Georgia belongs.
Stereo One Television
Associates of Basil Mkalashvili, leader of a Christian Orthodox extremist group, arrived at the independent television station Stereo One and demanded that the station cease a daily Protestant church program about the Bible. Staff called the police, who removed the intruders. However, soon after, a group of Mkalashvili’s followers gathered outside the station, threatening to destroy it. Stereo One temporarily halted the offending television program.
“60 Minutes,” Rustavi 2
Gunshots were fired in the middle of the night at the offices of the Tbilisi-based independent television station Rustavi-2. According to Georgian and international sources, a bullet was fired through the 16th floor window of the office of Rustavi-2’s “60 Minutes” program. No one was injured. Rustavi-2 staff believe that the actions were intended to intimidate the station, which is known for its investigative reporting on official corruption and criticism of government authorities. The police investigation into the attack produced no results.
Islam Saidayev, Chechenskaya Pravda
In late March, Georgian authorities arrested Islam Saidayev, a Chechen journalist and a naturalized Georgian citizen who is editor-in-chief of the newspaper Chechenskaya Pravda, on suspicion of connection to terrorists, including a Chechen field commander and al-Qaeda members. The journalist’s lawyer maintains that Saidayev’s contacts with Chechen rebels were related to his professional work. On June 25, Saidayev was released when a court in the capital, Tbilisi, ruled that there was insufficient evidence to warrant his detention.
Shots were fired at the offices of the Tbilisi-based independent television station Rustavi-2, according to Georgian and international reports. A few of the station’s staff were in the room when the shot was fired, but no one was hurt. Rustavi-2 staff believe that the attack was designed to intimidate the station, which is known for its investigative reporting on official corruption and criticism of government authorities. The police investigation into the attack produced no results.