The messenger logo

High Council of Justice releases statement over Rustavi 2

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, November 10
The Judge leading the Rustavi 2 case (a legal dispute between the current and former shareholders of the private broadcaster), declined to attend the meeting of the High Council of Justice invited by the head of Supreme Court of Georgia, Nino Gvenetadze.

In his explanation letter read by Gvenetadze, Judge Tamaz Urtmelidze said the meeting gave the impression that the judge should be questioned over the high profile case that would damage the independence of the court system in Georgia.

Several judges of the High Council, Levan Murusizde amongst them, also shared his opinion, stating that Gvenetadze did not have the right to invite Urtmelidze as no one had the right to demand explanations from any judge.

In response, Gvenetadze stated that no one intended to listen to Urtmelidze’s “report”. Gvenetadze said that she simply had a couple of questions she wished to listen to the judge’s answers to, as the Rustavi 2 case has caused much controversy.

“I had two questions: if he (Urtmelidze) was pressured, and why the court did not release a statement over the verdict delivered in relation to Rustavi 2,” Gvenetadze said.

After the meeting, the High Council of Justice released a statement, which read that the intense attacks on the decision of the court, the repeated insults against the judge, the often inept criticisms of the court decision and sometimes intentional twisting of facts - as expressed by different politicians, public servants, senior officials, NGOs, public figures, ambassadors accredited in Georgia, and others, as well as other uncalled-for parties - significantly undermined the independence of the judiciary, other fundamental principles, and the sustainability of state institutions.

“The alleged attempt at blatant appropriation of the TV Company, and justice regarding this case, raises intense public interest. The ongoing controversy should not undermine the process of finding the truth, the implementation of legally prescribed procedures, the assessment of alleged human rights violations, the protection of the company’s assets through interim measures, and the administration of justice,” the statement says.

According to the statement, it is equally unacceptable to use questionable and unverifiable information to manipulate public opinion and to create a twisted picture as though the review of a claim, and the execution of relevant procedures, were somehow seeking, or designed to, violate freedom of expression.

“We publicly state that the court decision’s provision (“Objective and fair reporting shall be used to cover issues of public interest”) does not, and cannot, be perceived as interference with the TV Company’s editorial independence, let alone censorship. 'Objective and fair reporting' is an inseparable duty and a fundamental principle of the independent media, an embodiment of the special obligations of reporters, and an international and common European legal standard enshrined in almost all of the media dispute decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Media freedom and relevant legal standards are defined in national constitutions, international conventions, and national and international judicial interpretations, not the personal opinions of individual media employees,” the statement reads.

According to the statement, property rights and freedom of expression are equally important pillars of democracy, which must be ensured by equal protection and by striking a balance between individual and public interests—which actually is the job of the independent judiciary—not at the expense of either of these values. “The diverse and intense moral pressure on Judge Urtmelidze undermines the effectiveness of the judiciary on the whole, which must be cherished and protected by society,” the statement said.

Tbilisi City Court Judge Tamaz Urtmelidze has already made several verdicts on Rustavi 2. Based on one verdict, the former shareholder of Rustavi 2 Qibar Khalvashi, regained 100% of his shares of the media outlet. However, until the case covers all the aspects of the case, the verdict will not yet be enforced, Georgia’s Constitutional Court said.

Several days ago, Urtmelidze appointed temporary managers of the channel after an appeal by Khalvashi. The motivation of the appeal was Khalvashi's suspicion that the current Rustavi 2 managers are connected with state officials of the former government, ex-President Mikheil Saakahsvili among them. Khalvashi states that he was illegally deprived his Rustavi 2 shares under the previous state leadership.