Russian journalist faces forgery charges in Georgia

New York, September 18, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists urges Georgian authorities to drop criminal charges against the Tbilisi bureau chief for the Russian news agency RIA Novosti and allow him to work without fear of harassment. According to RIA Novosti, Besik Pipia is facing up to three years in prison if convicted on a criminal charge of document forgery. 

According to RIA Novosti, Georgian police opened a criminal probe against Pipia on September 3, claiming he had forged his Georgian driver’s license, which they issued to him in 1991. Pipia told CPJ that his license had been erroneously issued under a category that allowed him to drive commercial vehicles rather than regular cars.

Pipia and his news agency protested the charge, calling it politically motivated and unjust; they said they believe it is related to his work as a Russian journalist. Valery Levchenko, RIA Novosti’s deputy director, told CPJ that the criminal case coincided with Georgia’s denial of entry to two Russian journalists who had been invited to attend a public forum in Tbilisi that discussed post-conflict relations between the two countries.

The one-sided coverage by state-controlled channels in Russia and Georgia in the August 2008 conflict in the breakaway province of South Ossetia severely undermined attitudes toward journalists from the opposing side in the two countries, CPJ research shows.

“Besik Pipia has been singled out for working for a Russian news agency,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We urge the authorities to drop all charges against him and allow him work freely.”

Pipia told CPJ that he had applied to renew his license last June. He said he learned about the misprint in his Georgian permit only after an investigator brought him in for questioning. The journalist said he did not hear from authorities again until they summoned him September 3 to tell him he was being charged.

Pipia said that in addition to this charge, Georgian authorities have not yet renewed his accreditation since he applied for it last May. “According to the law, authorities should respond to me within a month, but I have not heard from them for months,” he told CPJ.