Police and demonstrators are seen in Dmanisi, Georgia, where people fighting in the streets recently attacked several journalists. (Photo: Mirian Meladze/Pirveli Arkhi)

Unidentified men attack crews with Georgian public broadcaster Pirveli Arkhi

New York, May 19, 2021 – Georgian authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate recent attacks on employees of the Pirveli Arkhi public broadcaster and ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On May 17, unidentified men attacked and verbally harassed film crews working with the broadcaster in the southern city of Dmanisi, where journalists were reporting on street clashes between local ethnic Azeris and Georgians, according to news reports and Pirveli Arkhi CEO Tinatin Berdzenishvili, who spoke with CPJ in a video interview.

None of the journalists required hospitalization for their injuries, Berdzenishvili told CPJ.

“Georgian authorities should take the recent attacks on Pirveli Arkhi’s news crews seriously, and hold the perpetrators to account,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “It is essential that the journalists can cover important political events, including violent clashes and protests, freely and without fear, and it is law enforcement’s job to ensure their safety.”

Three separate Pirveli Arkhi film crews were reporting on the clashes in Dmanisi, according to correspondent Giorgi Koberidze, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

He said that the attacks on the journalists began when a man punched reporter Rezi Khutsishvili in the stomach, and then another hit photographer Mirian Meladze on the back, pushed him to the ground, and kicked him in the head.

Koberidze told CPJ that another man hit camera operator Shota Chokheli in the face and tried unsuccessfully to steal his camera, and an unidentified person threw a rock that hit technician Zurab Failodze, injuring his neck.

Koberidze himself was not injured in the clashes, he said, adding that the other members of the reporting crews— reporter Rusudan Loladze and camera operators Vano Nadiradze and Zaza Baramidze—also escaped without harm.

Koberidze said that the men who attacked the journalists also aggressively yelled at them to “go away” and stop filming, and said he believed the Pirveli Arkhi crew members were targeted because they were clearly identifiable as journalists and were filming the clashes.

Georgia’s Interior Ministry issued a statement on May 17 saying that police had identified the people involved in the fighting in Dmanisi, and were investigating. Those news reports said that several people had been detained for their actions during the clashes.

Today, Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria, the country’s legal ombudsman, released a statement expressing concern about the assaults of the journalists and called for those responsible to be held to account. She wrote that her office would monitor the investigation into the attacks.

Berdzenishivili told CPJ that the broadcaster appealed to local law enforcement to investigate the attacks on its employees, saying, “It is concerning that this is not the first incident of aggression against our correspondents, and we hope that this kind of issues are investigated timely. When journalists are doing their jobs, it is essential that they can do so in a safe environment.”

Previously, in September 2020, unidentified attackers beat up at least five journalists, including Baramidze, the camera operator, in the southern Georgian city of Marneuli, as CPJ documented at the time. Berdzenishvili told CPJ that the investigation into that incident is still ongoing.

CPJ emailed the Interior Ministry, which oversees the country’s police, and the Dmanisi city hall for comment, but did not receive any responses.