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Georgian documentary maker claims political asylum in Switzerland

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, February 11
"I will do everything to keep Georgia from becoming a refugee-producing nation", Vakhtang Komakhidze, the Head of Studio Reporter, said in e-mail correspondence with the website from the Geneva refugee shelter on February 10. In his letter Komakhidze explained the reasons for his painful decision to claim political asylum in Switzerland, saying that the Government had threatened that his family would be in danger if he didn’t stop his professional activities.

“Knowing what the Government of Georgia might do made me ask the Swiss Government for political asylum to ensure the safety of my family. Its threats started after my visit to Tskhinvali with Paata Zakareishvili, a member of the Republican Party, and Manana Mebuke, Head of the Union of Warriors and deceased Soldiers, during which we obtained important material about the 2008 August War. The first threats were made publicly on TV and were followed by pursuit in the name of the Government,” Komakhidze explained in his e-mail.

Komakhidze had travelled to breakaway South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali as a Georgian human rights activist in December 2009 in relation to the freeing of four Georgian teenagers. South Ossetian de facto officials handed him some documents, containing information about the Georgian Government, according to his e-mail.

“The documentary film which I have produced and which is the reason I am being pursued depicts the real situation in Tskhinvali. The film will be very interesting for the public but unfortunately I can’t guess exactly which part of it is so painful for the Government.” Komakhidze said, adding that requesting political asylum had become the only way he could complete work on this film, which would be shown to the public.

Komakhidze stressed that he had even been followed by the most famous members of the Constitutional Security Department while leaving for Geneva. Keti Popkhadze, Komakhidze’s wife, confirmed that the authorities had threatened on the telephone to murder her husband's family because of his journalistic activities.

Paata Zakareishvili approved Komakhidze’s decision to ask for political asylum from the Swiss Government. “We have both been threatened, but Komakhidze seems to have been put under more pressure because of his status in society. Komakhidze has a family, and therefore must be unable to resist the pressure any more,” Zakareishvili said, adding that the main reason they were being persecuted must be their visit to Tskhinvali as they had obtained serious evidence against the Government of Georgia there. “Komakhidze could show in his film that the Government had been preparing for war instead of the Olympic Games in August 2008.,” he added.

The Messenger asked journalists to comment on this issue. Nino Jangirashvili, Director of Kavkazia TV, found it difficult to make any comment until hearing from Komakhidze himself, while Ia Antadze said that “The main aim of our Government is to take control of the information sources in Georgia. There are three main segments which are always under pressure: national TV stations, investigative TV stations and regional ones. Vakhtang Komakhidze is a well-known investigative journalist who has made very interesting documentary films. I am sorry not to have met him after his visit to Tskhinvali in 2009 as I would then have been informed about his material against the Government. This person is first of all my friend, and I worry that he has had to come to such a painful decision and been forced to leave the country,” she said.

The Prosecutor’s Office says that Komakhidze hasn’t officially spoken to them about any threats. The Office will familiarise itself with the issue and conduct a further investigation. The Interior Ministry has not yet made any comment about the journalist’s statement either.