Journalists beaten at opposition rally

New York, May 4, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the Friday, April 30, attack on journalists covering an opposition rally in the city of Batumi, in the autonomous republic of Ajaria in southern Georgia.

According to Alexi Tvaradze, a cameraman with the independent television station Rustavi-2, several police officers beat him with clubs and confiscated a tape containing his footage of the demonstration. One of the officers tried to take his camera, “but I didn’t let him,” Tvaradze told CPJ. Tvaradze was not seriously injured during the incident and is back on the job.

Ajarian police also beat Eteri Turadze and Lela Dumbadze, editor and reporter, respectively, with the Ajarian weekly Batumelebi; and Natia Zoidze, a special correspondent with the news agency Inter Press, according to Internews, an international nongovernmental media organization. CPJ could not confirm the extent of these journalists’ injuries.

Local Georgian media reported that several hundred demonstrators participated in the rally in downtown Batumi, which was organized by the opposition movement Our Ajaria. The participants demanded the release of political prisoners held in Ajarian prisons on the orders of Ajaria’s regional leader, Aslan Abashidze.

In early March, Ajarian special forces attacked Vakhtang Komakhidze, a reporter with Rustavi-2’s investigative news program “60 Minutes,” at a checkpoint on his way out of Batumi after he had reported for two weeks on allegations of corruption by Abashidze and his family. See CPJ’s March 5 alert.