New York, April 13, 2021 – Georgian authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate the vandalization of a car used by independent Georgian broadcaster Formula TV and ensure that journalists in the country can work safely and freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In the early hours of April 9, unknown perpetrators smashed all the windows of the car as it was parked near the home of the broadcaster’s driver, Archil Tibunashvili, in the village of Gamarjveba near Tbilisi, the capital, according to news reports and Zurab Gumbaridze, the broadcaster’s chief executive officer, who spoke with CPJ via phone.
Tibunashvili owns the car, which he uses for Formula TV work; at the time of the vandalization it was clearly marked with the Formula TV logo and a microphone with the same insignia was visible from the windows, said Gumbaridze.
Gumbaridze told CPJ he believes that the vandalism was related to the broadcaster’s reporting, in particular its critical coverage of Georgian authorities, though did not specify which report might have drawn the attention of the perpetrators.
“Georgian authorities must thoroughly investigate this act of vandalism on Formula TV’s vehicle, and ensure that journalists in Georgia can work safely,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Journalists and staff of independent media outlets in Georgia should be able to do their jobs without fear, and authorities must ensure the safety of the press.”
According to Gumbaridze, the perpetrators did not take anything from the car and quickly fled, after which Tibunashvili alerted the local police. The Ministry of Internal Affairs announced on its website that the police department in the Kvemo Kartli administrative region is investigating the incident. CPJ called the Kvemo Kartli police department but no one picked up the phone.
In a separate incident the day before, April 8, another Formula TV driver was beaten up by unknown perpetrators near his home in Tbilisi, according to news reports and Gumbaridze.
Gumbaridze told CPJ the driver has chosen not to make further details of the attack public and that he requested that his name not be disclosed for security purposes. Gumbaridze told CPJ it is unclear whether the attack is connected to the driver’s employment with the broadcaster.
Gumbaridze said local police are investigating the attack, but declined to say which jurisdiction for security reasons. CPJ’s emails to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Georgian prosecutor general’s office went unanswered.
The April incidents follow another episode in February, when three men attacked and threatened to kill Formula TV anchor Vakhtang Sanaia in Tbilisi, as CPJ documented. The journalist told CPJ at the time 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 three attackers were apprehended on the spot by Georgian police, and later charged with attacking the journalist, as CPJ documented. They are in pre-trial detention, Salome Tavadze, Formula TV’s head of marketing, told CPJ via email.