Police face protesters in Tbilisi, Georgia, on March 8, 2023. Authorities attacked and obstructed at least 14 journalists covering recent protests.(AFP/Zurab Tsertsvadze)

Georgian police beat, obstruct journalists covering protests against foreign agent law

Stockholm, March 13, 2023 – Georgian authorities should thoroughly investigate the recent obstruction of journalists covering protests and ensure members of the press can report freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

Starting March 2, law enforcement officers in the capital, Tbilisi, attacked and obstructed the work of at least 14 journalists covering protests against proposed “foreign agent” legislation, according to news reports, statements by the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics and Media Advocacy Coalition local trade groups, the charter’s executive director Mariam Gogosashvili, who spoke to CPJ by phone, and seven local journalists who spoke to CPJ.

None of the journalists were seriously injured, according to those sources. Georgia’s parliament rejected one of the bills and withdrew the other in response to the protests on March 9.

“Georgian authorities must conduct a full and transparent investigation into law enforcement officers’ recent obstruction of journalists covering protests,” said Carlos Martínez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “The eyes of the world have rightly been on Georgia during these demonstrations, and authorities have a duty to ensure that journalists can cover these important events safely and without hindrance.”

On March 2, officers with the Special State Protection Service shoved Mikheil Gvadzabia, a reporter with independent news website Netgazeti; Tamuna Gegidze, editor of the independent news website On.ge; and Vakhtang Kareli, a photojournalist with the independent broadcaster Formula TV; and forcibly removed them from Parliament despite them showing passes and accreditations, according to reports, footage of the incident, and Gvadzabia, who spoke to CPJ by phone.

On March 7, Formula TV reporter Mari Tsakadze was filming police when one officer told others to “Get this girl away,” and officers pushed her and held onto her arm for about one minute, preventing her from filming, according to Tsakadze, who spoke to CPJ by phone and shared video of the incident. Tsakadze said she had showed authorities her press card and repeatedly stated she was a journalist.

On March 8, Aleksandre Keshelashvili and Basti Mgaloblishvili, reporters with the independent outlet Publika, were filming police when one officer shouted “Get rid of the journalists,” and another pushed them from the scene, hitting Keshelashvili’s phone and then kicking him in the hip, according to Keshelashvili, who spoke to CPJ by messaging app, and footage published by Publika.

Also on March 8, Gvadzabia was filming protests with his editor, Nestan Tsetskhladze, when a special forces officer rushed at him; Tsetskhladze shouted that the pair were journalists and Gvadzabia was wearing a large press card from his neck, but the officer kicked Gvadzabia, injuring his hand, according to reports and Gvadzabia.

On the same evening, Formula TV reporter Giorgi Kvijinadze and camera operator Davit Mania were filming police beating and detaining protesters when around 10 officers tried to take their camera and then repeatedly punched them on their backs and torso, according to reports and Kvijinadze, who spoke to CPJ by messaging app.

The same evening, police pushed Formula TV reporter Tea Tetrashvili and camera operator Nika Kokaia and tried to take their camera, Tetrashvili told CPJ by messaging app; they also sprayed pepper spray in Tetrashvili’s eyes and threw a scooter at Kokaia, and deliberately fired a canister of tear gas among a group of journalists filming the protests, she said.

Police also covered the camera lens of Formula TV journalist Rati Mujiri and camera operator Giorgi Japaridze and pushed them when they tried to film police beating and arresting protesters, according to reports and Mujiri, who spoke to CPJ by phone. Police also punched Formula TV journalist Nika Sajaia in the head, the journalist told CPJ by messaging app.

The Special Investigation Service of Georgia, the government agency responsible for investigating crimes against journalists, told CPJ via Facebook that it had received 11 complaints from journalists about police actions during the protests and said it would conduct “all necessary measures to ensure an objective investigation.”

Separately, Georgia’s parliament has restricted journalists’ access amid the protests against the foreign agents bill, according to statements by the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics and Gogosashvili. On March 5, parliament suspended the accreditation of at least 10 journalists for one month alleging that they had participated in protests inside Parliament, Gogosashvili said.

In February, Georgia’s parliament introduced new accreditation regulations that allow Parliament to restrict access to accredited journalists on security grounds and to suspend accreditation on vague grounds of violating order, Gogosashvili told CPJ, adding that local advocacy groups are challenging those regulations in court.

CPJ emailed the Georgian police, the parliament, and the Special State Protection Service for comment, but did not receive any replies.