Death threats leveled at Adjara reporters
By Shorena Labadze
Wednesday, July 30Staff of a well-respected regional newspaper in the autonomous republic of Adjara have received death threats in what some journalists claim is an attempt to crackdown on media freedom.
The death threats are specifically targeted at a court reporter, whose name has not been released, who works for the newspaper Gazeti Batumelebi.
“If he doesn’t stop [writing] you will find his corpse with his mouth stuffed with an issue of your newspaper,” reads one letter, written in the local dialect.
It claims the assassination of the journalist in question has already been planned and warns the chief editor, Eter Turadze, that she is also on the “shortlist” of targets.
Turadze says it is the first time that the staff of the newspaper, which was founded in 2001, have received death threats.
The first threat came on July 18, prompting newspaper management to send a letter to the Adjaran prosecutor general appealing for an investigation into the incident.
Shortly after this letter was printed in the following edition of Gazeti Batumelebi, the newspaper received a second, more aggressive threat.
“The prosecutor general will help you in the investigation of your journalist’s murder and, as always, it will find no one,” it reads.
The anonymous sender also claims to have hacked into the newspaper’s website.
Yesterday Turadze said they are still awaiting a response from the Prosecutor General’s Office.
“We addressed the Adjaran Prosecutor General’s Office and the central Prosecutor General’s Office and we hope they will reply. If not, I simply don’t know…who else can protect the rights and life of any person in the country?” Turadze said.
Human Rights Ombudsman Sozar Subari also contacted the Prosecutor General’s Office over the matter.
“Presumably it is an example of restricting freedom of speech. I can’t say anything concrete yet, but there are so many examples of restrictions on free speech in the country that I am considering the case in this context,” Subari said.
A spokesperson for the Prosecutor General’s Office said the case would be looked into.
Eliso Chapidze, an editor of the newspaper Rezonansi, said the Georgian organization Journalists for Freedom of Speech, of which she is a leader, will follow the Prosecutor General’s investigation carefully.
“Accusing someone of this [sending death threats] is not right until the end of the investigation. We must wait for the results,” Chapidze said.
Well-known Georgian journalist Ia Antadze says Gazeti Batumelebi is a respected paper and would be a logical target for anyone trying to clamp down on media freedom.
“If we consider the current critical situation in media sphere—I mean the restrictions on freedom of speech—the paper is well-chosen to hit the media in general. It is a highly professional paper which doesn’t say anything without evidence. It never refrains to say the truth if it is proven. That’s why the paper would face problems sooner or later,” Antadze said.
Gazeti Batumelebi is issued every Wednesday and reports on politics, the economy, crime and education, according to Media.ge, a clearing house for Georgian news and media reports.