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The News in Brief

Monday, October 19
UNM MPs’ Draft Statement on Rustavi 2 TV Voted Down in Parliament

On Friday, Parliament voted down a draft statement put forward by the opposition UNM party, expressing “concern over government pressure” on the Tbilisi-based private broadcaster, Rustavi 2 TV, which is in a court battle over an ownership dispute.

“Obviously coordinated actions by the executive and judicial branches of the government against Rustavi 2 TV pose a threat to the existence of [the broadcaster]. This has the potential to hugely damage media pluralism and freedom of expression and, consequently, our country’s Euro-Atlantic integration,” reads the statement, which was rejected by the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority group.

Parliamentary debates over the proposed text, which started on October 15 and continued for a second day on October 16, were aired live by Rustavi 2 TV. Lawmakers from the Free Democrats opposition party were not present at the debates.

During the debates, UNM lawmakers claimed that a lawsuit by one of Rustavi 2 TV’s former co-owners, Kibar Khalvashi, who wants to reclaim his shares in the broadcaster, is in fact an attempt by ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili and the current government to take over the opposition-minded television station. They were describing Khalvashi as Ivanishvili’s “puppet” and “stooge”.

UNM lawmakers say that the “take over” of Rustavi 2 TV by the government would “de-legitimize” the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for October, 2016.

“By refusing to adopt this statement, the parliamentary majority assumes responsibility for developments that will take place if political process losses legitimacy in the lead up to next year’s parliamentary elections,” a senior UNM lawmaker, Goka Gabashvili said. “[The adoption] of this statement would have signalled that at least Parliament is not part of this government-orchestrated attack on Rustavi 2 TV.”

UNM MP Giorgi Gviniashvili said during the debates: “I am confident that there are people within you [the GD parliamentary majority group], who understand the threat [Rustavi 2 TV is facing], but fail to confront Bidzina Ivanishvili, who wants to silence Rustavi 2 TV.”

The opposition lawmakers were also claiming that judge Tamaz Urtmelidze, who is adjudicating the court dispute, is under the government’s control.

On October 12, the Prosecutor’s Office filed criminal charges against the mother of judge Urtmelidze in connection with a domestic incident that occurred a year and nine months ago.

Rustavi 2 TV and the UNM claim that the timing of initiating the criminal charges, which comes after the ownership dispute case was assigned to Urtmelidze, suggests that the authorities want to exert pressure on the judge using the possible prosecution of his mother.

The Prosecutor’s Office denied the allegation and said that initiating criminal charges in sensitive cases of domestic incidents more than a year later is a standard procedure, as the parties involved are given time to make an out-of-court settlement.

Echoing the government’s position, during the debates, lawmakers from the GD ruling coalition were denying any involvement in the Rustavi 2 TV case, saying that the dispute is between the private entities; they were saying that Khalvashi, who owned the broadcaster in 2004-2006, had the right to file a lawsuit if he believes his property rights were infringed and it would exert pressure on the judiciary if Parliament adopts a statement regarding the ongoing court dispute.

GD MP Pati Khalvashi, who is a sister of Kibar Khalvashi, said that her brother had to flee to Germany, where he was granted asylum, because he was “prosecuted for political reasons” and his businesses raided when the UNM was in power. She said that UNM lawmakers were trying to mislead the public while claiming that her brother took legal action to reclaim the broadcaster only recently, adding that Khalvashi first filed a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office about eight years ago, but his claims about being forced to give up Rustavi 2 TV shares have never been investigated.

During the debates, the GD lawmakers were also criticizing Rustavi 2 TV as the UNM’s “mouthpiece”, but were also saying that they would also come to the defence of the broadcaster if it is at risk of being disolved.

Journalist detained for putting up poster mocking Ivanishvili

Police in Georgia on Friday detained an opposition-leaning journalist for putting up a poster mocking billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Tamar Chergoleishvili, is a founder of a television company and the wife of Giga Bokeria one of the leaders of National Movement, secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council during Saakashvili’s presidency.

Chergoleishvili was detained with two others as they stuck a poster on a construction fence at Tbilisi Opera in the centre of the capital.

The founder of Tabula TV was charged with an administrative offence, along with the other two detainees, chief producer Lekso Machavariani and Salome Khvadagiani, a student, Tabula reports.

The three were taken to a police station and accused of vandalizing the opera building’s facade, but later released after signing written statements.

The poster criticized Ivanishvili and the government’s plans to negotiate with Gazprom about increasing the supply of natural gas from Russia.

Ivanishvili was Prime Minister for the first year of Georgian Dream’s government and is regarded as a powerful figure who has the final say in the government’s most important decisions.

The revival of ties with Gazprom, a Russian state-owned company, is controversial in Georgia, which fought a brief war with its northern neighbour in 2008. The UNM reacted with outrage over the news, and President Giorgi Margvelashvili also expressed concern and demanded high-level discussions about Georgia’s energy security.

Before the detention of Chergoleishvili and two others, student activists protested in front of the government office, claiming that the negotiations with Gazprom are a threat to the country.

The student activists were planning to hang posters throughout Tbilisi.

Tabula started as a weekly magazine with strong pro-UNM views and later began TV broadcasts on a license previously used by TV Sakartvelo.