New York, March 3, 2021 – Georgian authorities should thoroughly investigate the attack on journalist Vakhtang Sanaia, and ensure that the perpetrators are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In the early hours of February 25 in Tbilisi, the capital, three unidentified men attacked Vakhtang Sanaia, an anchor at the local TV broadcaster Formula, who is also known as Vakho Sanaia, according to news reports and Sanaia, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
While the journalist was stopped on the side of the road with his family awaiting assistance due to car trouble, three passersby started insulting him and his broadcaster, and challenging him to a fight, according to those reports.
Sanaia then slipped and fell, and two of the men hit and kicked him; they also punched one of his relatives in her back, according to reports and the journalist. Sanaia said the men told him to “remember their faces” and threatened to kill him.
People who were helping the journalist with his car intervened and stopped the scuffle, and police arrived and detained all three attackers, according to Sanaia, news reports, and a report published at the official website of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs; they are now in pretrial detention, according to those sources.
“Georgian authorities should thoroughly and swiftly investigate the attack on journalist Vakhtang Sanaia, and ensure that the perpetrators are held to account and the journalist can work safely,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “It is essential that all journalists in Georgia can work without a fear of retaliation, and authorities should make sure that those responsible are not allowed off the hook.”
Sanaia sustained bruises on his head, arms, and one of his legs, and was diagnosed with a concussion and had to stay in bed for several days, he said, adding that his relatives did not sustain any serious injuries in the attack.
The journalist told CPJ that he believed the perpetrators attacked him because they recognized him as the host of a news and talk show that had recently criticized the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The perpetrators have been charged with “persecution with the use of violence or with the threat of violence;” “beatings or other violence;” and “making threats of death or bodily injury,” according to news reports and a statement published on the official website of the prosecutor general’s office.
If found guilty, they face up to three years behind bars, according to Georgian law.
CPJ emailed the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Georgian prosecutor general’s office for comment.
The prosecutor general’s office responded with a statement saying that it would implement a “strict criminal policy” in prosecuting the suspects in Sanaia’s attack. The Ministry of Internal Affairs did not respond.