Journalist attacked

New York, March 5, 2004—Vakhtang Komakhidze, a reporter for the well-respected “60 Minutes” investigative journalism program on independent television station Rustavi-2 was brutally attacked today in the autonomous republic of Ajaria in southern Georgia.

According to Akaki Gogichaishvili, the host of “60 Minutes,” Komakhidze had spent the last two weeks reporting in Ajaria and was working on an exposé about allegations of corruption by Ajaria’s regional leader, Aslan Abashidze, and his family.

As Komakhidze was driving out of the Ajarian city of Batumi, transit police stopped him at a check point, said local reports. Several unidentified men in black uniforms forced Komakhidze out of his car and began to beat him. The men also took the journalist’s video camera, tapes, and various documents. He is currently hospitalized in Batumi with serious injuries, the Russian Itar-Tass news agency reported.

Gogichaishvili and his Rustavi-2 colleagues believe that the men were with an Ajarian special task unit.

Komakhidze was traveling with a local Batumi newspaper journalist, Mzia Amaghloberli, who was not harmed. Both she and Komakhidze said the transit police did nothing to prevent the beating, said the Moscow-based Russian private television channel, NTV.

“We call on Ajarian authorities to actively investigate this vicious attack against Komakhidze and to bring those responsible to justice,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Rustavi-2—and especially “60 Minutes”—is known for its aggressive coverage of government corruption. For years, under former President Eduard Shevardnadze, the channel has endured threats, harassment, and politically motivated tax audits and lawsuits in retaliation for its investigative reporting. Rustavi-2 is known for its coverage of the opposition protests that led to Shevardnadze’s resignation in November 2003 and the election of President Mikhail Saakashvili.