New York, October 5, 2020 — Georgian authorities should conduct a thorough investigation of assaults on five journalists who were covering a political clash ahead of the October 31 parliamentary elections, find the perpetrators, and ensure that journalists can work safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On the evening of September 29, in the southern Georgian city of Marneuli, unknown assailants attacked a reporting crew for the pro-opposition TV broadcaster Mtavari Channel as police looked on without helping, according to news reports and Mtavari director and lawyer Tamta Muradashvili, who spoke with CPJ via phone. Unknown assailants also attacked a cameraman for Georgian public TV broadcaster Pirveli Arkhi, according to Pirveli Arkhi correspondent Rusudan Loladze, who was nearby at the time of the attack and spoke with CPJ via messaging app. In both incidents, reporters’ equipment was damaged, the sources said.
“Georgian authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate this attack on journalists of broadcasters Mtavari Channel and Pirveli Arkhi in the city of Marneuli, find the perpetrators, and hold them to account,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Authorities in Georgia must ensure that journalists can work freely and safely in the run-up to the parliamentary elections.”
Mtavari Channel and Pirveli Arkhi had sent film crews to Marneuli to investigate physical altercations between local representatives of the ruling party Georgian Dream and the opposition party United National Movement, Muradashvili and Loladze told CPJ.
According to Muradashvili, the Mtavari Channel crew had just finished filming ongoing clashes outside of the Georgian Dream office in Marneuli when a group of five or six people approached the journalists and began to beat them. Muradashvili said that the attackers punched correspondent Jeikhun Muhamedali and slammed his head against a tree, causing him to lose consciousness. He was hospitalized and later discharged, though his arm is in a cast and he is experiencing stomach pain, Muradashvili said. She said that correspondent Bacho Turashvili, cameraman Lasha Gureshidze, and his assistant Nika Darchia were also attacked, and that Gureshidze’s equipment was broken.
Loladze told CPJ that she and Pirveli Arkhi cameraman Zaza Baramidze were on their way to report on clashes in the same area. She stayed in the car while Baramidze got out and began to film the fighting when several people attacked him, breaking his camera, she said. It is unclear if Baramidze was attacked by the same people who carried out the attack on the Mtavari Channel crew.
The journalists from both TV companies filed complaints with the police, but so far, no arrests have been made, according to Muradashvili and Loladze.
CPJ contacted Georgia’s internal affairs ministry, which oversees the country’s police, and Marneuli city hall via email for comment but did not receive a response.