Georgia TV stations protest over far-right attacks on journalists
Four independent TV stations in Georgia have suspended broadcasts for 24 hours as part of a wave of media protests against attacks on journalists by far-right mobs.
More than 50 journalists were beaten last week, some with sticks, while covering a protest against a Tbilisi Pride parade, Ultraconservative politicians and priests urged on supporters who raided the offices of pro-LGBTQ groups. The violence ahead of the Pride event led organisers to cancel the parade.
The attacks have focused attention on Georgia’s powerful ultraconservative forces, which have shown they are ready to use violence to support nativist, intolerant policies and are seen as a potential spoiler in Georgia’s plans to forge closer ties with the EU.
Following the attacks, the prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, indicated that the pride parade organisers were at fault for the violence, calling plans to hold the event “provocative and impermissible”.
In response, journalists have held protests and called for Garibashvili’s resignation, calling him a homophobe and saying that his government has failed to hold an effective investigation.
Alexander Lashkarava was working as a cameraman for the independent television station Pirveli during last week’s counter-protest when he was targeted and beaten by the angry mob, sustaining a concussion and broken bones in his face.
Less than a week later, his mother found him dead at home. While the circumstances of Lashkarava’s death remain unclear, he had complained of severe pain following the attack and had undergone surgery to repair the bones in his face.
An investigation has been launched to determine the cause of Lashkarava’s death, but during a press conference, a Georgian interior ministry official suggested he may have died of a drug overdose. The statement was seen as an attempt to discredit Lashkarava.
On Tuesday, Lashkarava’s body was carried in an open casket to a Tbilisi cemetery, as hundreds of mourners walked alongside the pallbearers. Dozens of cameramen and women stopped to applaud as his body was carried through the streets.
On the same day, journalists interrupted a government news conference and demanded Garibashvili’s resignation, calling him a “homophobe”.
“Excuse me, with all due respect to you, today our colleague Lekso Lashkarava will be buried and I think no one has the right to stand at this podium today,” said a reporter for Formula News, one of the protesting television stations, as he interrupted a government spokeswoman on Tuesday.
He then called on other reporters and cameramen to join him in front of the podium, handing out pictures of Lashkarava and other signs calling for an investigation into the attacks.
“Prime minister Garibashvili must resign because he is the number one homophobe in our country,” said the reporter. “He is a violent prime minister and must resign.”
On Wednesday, Formula, TV Pirveli, and two others, Mtavari and Kavkasia, said they would halt broadcasting for 24 hours in a coordinated act of protest.
“Irakli Garibashvili should resign! All the attackers should be punished!” read a statement published by all four stations.
The attacks were the worst street violence seen in Tbilisi in years, recalling a mob led by priests that descended on gay rights protesters in 2013. The recent violence has also elicited international condemnation from both foreign governments and rights groups.
“We are following the situation very closely, and we are committed to seeing to it that those responsible for this are held accountable,” said Ned Price, a US State Department spokesman, when asked this week about the violence.
Asked whether Georgian officials could be sanctioned over the attacks, he said the government could use sanctions to target the perpetrators of human rights abuses around the world but would not “preview” possible sanctions.
“After the coordinated attack on more than 50 journalists, the suspicious death of Aleksandr Lashkarava marks a disastrous turning point for the freedom to inform in Georgia,” said Jeanne Cavalier, of the press freedom watchdog Reporters without Borders.
“Instead of trying to discredit the late cameraman, we demand that the interior ministry launch an in-depth, impartial and transparent investigation of the circumstances of his death and of the attacks suffered by journalists whom the police failed to protect.”