Nika Gvaramia, Georgia

International Press Freedom Awards

CPJ is honored to present its 2023 International Press Freedom Award to Georgia journalist Nika Gvaramia.

Georgian journalist Nika Gvaramia served more than a year of a 3.5-year prison sentence before receiving a presidential pardon in June 2023. 

The charges against Gvaramia were widely denounced as politically motivated. He is the only journalist in Georgia to receive a prison sentence in retaliation for their work since CPJ started keeping records of jailed journalists in 1992.  

Gvaramia, who has worked in journalism since 2012, was previously elected to Georgia’s Parliament and held government positions following the country’s 2003 peaceful revolution. A lawyer by training, he served on the legal team defending opposition leader and former President Mikheil Saakashvili between 2021 and 2022.

Mtavari Arkhi

In 2019, Gvaramia was heading Rustavi 2, then the country’s leading opposition broadcaster, when Georgian authorities enforced a court decision to transfer the station to a businessman believed to have close government ties. After the new owner dismissed him, Gvaramia then founded a new independent broadcaster, Mtavari Arkhi (Main Channel). As a TV presenter, he was known for his sharp criticism of the ruling Georgian Dream party. His show often featured investigations exposing alleged government corruption and abuses and covered allegations of Georgian authorities’ pro-Russian bias.

Within weeks of Gvaramia announcing his intention to found Mtavari Arkhi, police filed charges against him for alleged abuse of office and embezzlement, accusing him of using his position at Rustavi 2 to sign unfavorable advertising deals for his own financial gain. The journalist denied the charges and called them retribution for his journalism. 

In 2022, a Georgian court sentenced Gvaramia to 3.5 years in prison on two abuse of office charges, a move condemned by Georgian civil society and the international community. Reviews of the case by the Public Defender of Georgia, an independent human rights ombudsman elected by Parliament, and by the local chapter of anticorruption group Transparency International, concluded that there were no legal grounds for holding him criminally liable for the alleged actions.

Following sustained advocacy by CPJ and other organizations, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili granted Gvaramia a presidential pardon on June 22, 2023, days after the Supreme Court rejected his appeal.    

Honoring Gvaramia at this year’s IPFA shines a spotlight on the recent deterioration of press freedom in Georgia. CPJ has documented numerous cases of harassment and physical assaults against journalists, decreasing media access to government institutions and the authorities’ attempts to amend national legislation that would restrict press freedom as the country seeks admission to the European Union and democratic principles are fiercely contested in light of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The text of Nika Gvaramia’s acceptance speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.

Good evening. As a journalist who spent 400 days in jail for my work in Georgia, I stand in solidarity with Evan and his family. I hope he’ll be released from the hands of the oppressive Russian regime and we’ll soon see him free and safe.

I am deeply honored to address you tonight.  I extend my sincere thanks to all of you. My special gratitude goes to the Committee to Protect Journalists for this award and for standing with me, my cause and my family! My love goes to my wife Sofia, my children, and my TV Mtavari!

I was born in the former Soviet Union, in 1976. My parents were so called Intelligentsia and they were reading a lot. At the time, we had strange books – hand-copied, with bindings barely holding together, and covers strangely absent. Among others, one book held a special place. It was called the Gospel of John and it began with these words: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 

Once, in the early 80s, when the Soviet basketball team lost to the American team, my father found me crying about it. He told me that I should be happy because Soviets should always lose. Later I learned that my journalist and writer father was imprisoned for 2 years in 1969 for his anti-soviet statements and for writing and printing illegal underground newsletters. I learned that the truth was being told by the Voice of America, not my TV, and that this music played there was called jazz and guys singing there were The Beatles!

When the Soviet Union collapsed and we gained independence, I thought that here it is “Freedom.” But it turned out that the road to freedom was just beginning. After 30 years of Georgia’s independence, it was I who became a dissident imprisoned for my words. I found myself in cell 212 serving my term and making myself the promise to do everything in my power to ensure that my children would never be confined in a cell for expressing their thoughts and words, because the word is God, the word is freedom so freedom is God and God is freedom.

In the spirit of Kafka’s words “Someone must watch, someone must be there!” I steadfastly refuse to choose between my homeland and freedom, opting for both – for freedom and for homeland, for both together! Now I am determined to keep my promise and to carry on with my fight. I profoundly believe, we must prevail and we will prevail!

So, I will watch, I will be there! In my sweet Georgia – always on my mind!

Freedom to all political prisoners! 

Long live Georgia!

Slava Ukraine! 

Peace to Israel and all the peaceful and free people of that region!

Thank you so much!