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Rustavi 2 suspended broadcasting before rally

By Messenger Staff
Monday, February 20
Before a planned rally on Sunday, Georgia’s TV channel Rustavi 2 went black in protest prior to the Supreme Court’s final verdict on the company's ownership issue.

The channel management and journalists stressed that the existence of Rustavi 2 as of the importance for Georgia's democracy.

They claimed the closure of the channel was in the government’s interests which was irritated by the channel’s critical attitude and broadcasting the topics the authorities disliked.

The channel announced the temporary closure in protest on February 17, and renewed broadcasting on Sunday afternoon.

Kibar Khalvashi, who was a co-owner of Rustavi 2 from 2004 to 2006, filed a lawsuit in August 2015 to reclaim his shares in Rustavi 2, saying he was illegally deprived of his company shares under the previous United National Movement (UNM) government, which ruled in Georgia between 2003-2012.

Tbilisi City Court ruled against Rustavi 2's current owners in 2016, and the decision was upheld by the Appeals Court.

If the Supreme Court delivers the same verdict, Khalvashi will take over the channel.

Rustavi 2 and its supporters claim Khalvashi is backed by the government, which wants to silence the critical television channel.

Rustavi 2, the critical channel in Georgia, played an important role during the Rose Revolution in 2003, which ended Eduard Shevardnadze’s leadership.

“Between 2004 and 2012, the ownership of Rustavi 2 changed approximately 20 times, often in controversial deals that had a political flavour, involving people with close links to [then] President Mikheil Saakashvili and to officials of the UNM-led government,” earlier research of Transparency International Georgia said.

Khalvashi himself was affiliated with ex-UNM key figure Irakli Okruashvili, who later went into opposition, a move which caused a backlash from the UNM authorities.

It is also interesting how Khalvashi managed to pay millions for the channel.

Of course it is up to the court to make a final decision. However, now that the Georgian Dream party has an absolute majority in Parliament and Georgia has no strong opposition parties, the existence of a critical media is important.

Many may like or dislike the channel, but it is one of the leading media outlets in Georgia, and it is important that the broadcaster retain the same editorial policy it has now.

The rally announced by Rustavi 2 gathered about several thousand crowd in front of the Parliament building in Tbilisi. The supporters of Rustavi 2 aired criticism towards Georgia's ruling force and tried to blackmail the Government threatening by increase the protest charge in case if the Court decides to transfer the TV channel to its real owner Kibar khalvashi.