Aleksandre “Lekso” Lashkarava, a camera operator with the independent Georgian broadcaster TV Pirveli, was found dead at his home in Tbilisi, the capital, on the morning of July 11, 2021, six days after being severely beaten by anti-LGBT demonstrators, according to multiple news reports and a statement by the Interior Ministry of Georgia.
An official cause of death had yet to be announced, Nika Simonishvili, chairperson of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), an independent legal nongovernmental organization representing Lashkarava’s family, told CPJ by messaging app on August 27, 2021.
Lashkarava, 37, was one of dozens of journalists injured on July 5, when protesters demonstrating against a planned LGBT Pride rally attacked members of the press covering the event, as CPJ documented. In an interview following the incident, Lashkarava told the BBC that the TV Pirveli team was working on a report inside the offices of the LGBT rights organization Shame, the event’s organizer, when the building was stormed by protesters. Lashkarava’s colleague Miranda Baghaturia later said that Lashkarava defended her from the protesters but was then set upon by a group of up to 20 individuals, who repeatedly kicked him in the head and face, leaving him lying in a pool of blood, according to news reports.
CPJ contacted Baghaturia by messaging app via a TV Pirveli colleague, Guga Maisuradze, but she declined to comment.
Lashkarava sustained a concussion and broken bones in his face as a result of the attack, and underwent surgery; he was discharged from the hospital on July 8 to recover at home, according to news reports.
Lashkarava appeared in a TV interview about the attack on July 9, but was complaining of severe pain the day before he was found dead, Baghaturia said, according to Ekho Kavkaza, the Russian-language service of U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Georgian bureau.
Police launched a criminal investigation into his death under Article 115 of the Georgian criminal code, which pertains to “driving a person to suicide,” according to the Interior Ministry statement; that article is often used when a body is found without an obvious cause of death, according to reports.
In a briefing held on July 12, the director of the Central Criminal Police Department, Mamuka Chelidze, stated that an initial post-mortem examination had found five separate narcotic substances in Lashkarava’s body and that “according to the examination, the cause of death may have been an overdose by the mentioned substances.” At the briefing, police released footage and a reconstruction of Lashkarava’s movements on July 10 which they claimed showed that the camera operator had purchased and consumed drugs the day before he was found dead. At the briefing, the police alleged that he had suffered from an overdose before returning home late that night, but that he did not receive medical treatment.
On July 18, the Interior Ministry announced that police had arrested an individual alleged to have sold heroin to Lashkarava and his friends the day before the camera operator was found dead.
CPJ emailed Georgia’s Central Criminal Police Department and the Ministry of Internal Affairs for comment and updates on the investigations into Lashkarava’s death and the attack on him, but did not receive any replies.
Lashkarava’s family, colleagues, and many members of the media have rejected the police version and accused the government of attempting to shift responsibility for its failure to ensure journalists’ safety on July 5, or even cover up its complicity in stoking or condoning anti-LGBT violence.
The camera operator’s family and Aleksandre Gejadze, an independent expert added to the post-mortem investigation at the request of TV Pirveli, said that Lashkarava had received morphine to treat severe pain following surgery, according to reports.
The Lashkarava family and lawyers representing them have also objected to the police seizure of Lashkarava’s body against their wishes on the morning his body was discovered. Simonishvili told CPJ in a telephone interview on July 30 that lawyers were not given access to the camera operator’s body until four hours after police seized it and have questions about what happened to the body during this time.
Simonishvili told CPJ on July 30 that the results of the official autopsy—which were pending as of late August 2021—were awaited to establish the relative roles of narcotic substances and Lashkarava’s injuries in his death. He added that GYLA lawyers were in discussions with the investigative authorities about which experts to include in continued forensic analysis and said that no date has yet been set for the final autopsy conclusions.
Seven individuals have so far been arrested for attacking the TV Pirveli camera crew on July 5, Simonishvili told CPJ by messaging app on August 30, 2021.