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Supreme Court verdict over Rustavi 2

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, March 6
Last week, all nine members of the Supreme Court Grand Chamber made a verdict in favour of the former owner of the biggest TV broadcaster in Georgia, Kibar Khalvashi.

The Court said that the man and the company owned by him must regain 100% of the channel’s shares.

The current management of Rustavi 2 and the opposition stress it was a “political decision” that aimed to silence the “most impartial and critical media outlet”.

The trial caused a domestic and foreign outcry, with many stressing the importance of keeping Rustavi 2's editorial policy as it is now.

Khalvashi, who in his earlier interview did not exclude that he may sell the channel when receiving back his shares, was offered by the current leadership of the channel to sell the shares to Rustavi 2's current team.

In response, Khalvashi said he didn’t intend to sell the company at the present moment, without evaluating the existing condition in the channel.

Founded in 1994, the broadcasting company changed ownership about 20 times between 2004 and 2012, during UNM rule, Transparency International Georgia said.

Khalvashi filed a lawsuit in 2015 and stressed the property was illegally seized from him by the previous United National Movement government.

He stressed he purchased the company for $7 million USD in 2004 but was forced under strong pressure to concede the property to a new owner in December 2006.

The current Georgian Dream Government members, who describe Rustavi 2 as an opposition TV channel, stressed it was an ownership dispute and they had nothing to deal with the court’s independent solution.

The Government vowed support to media pluralism and free media in Georgia.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties are accusing the government for fighting against Rustavi 2.

A special statement was also made by President Giorgi Margvelashvili.

“If the activities of the independent media are limited in the country, it will be a problem not only of any particular media outlet, but also for democracy in our country,” Mrgvelashvili said.

He stressed that media pluralism and independence are politically important for the country's future.

The US embassy was one of the first which reacted to the case expressing its concern.

“The United States views with concern the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Rustavi 2, which could effectively limit the access of opposition voices to Georgian broadcast media. We urge the Georgian government to take steps to ensure that the media environment remains free, open, and pluralistic,” the Embassy said.

The Embassy of France said they were “carefully watching” the Rustavi 2 developments, while the EU's representation in Georgia stated they have been monitoring the case from the very start.

“We reiterate the need for protecting political pluralism, freedom of media and access to diverse views. In the present stage, this remains fundamental for the preservation and consolidation of democracy, corresponding to essential commitments contained in the Association Agreement between Georgia and the European Union,” says the EU's statement

In addition, a total of 19 Georgian NGOs also expressed their concern over the Supreme Court's decision.

"The result does not correspond to the requirements of a fair trial and makes our suspicions even stronger about the government’s interference with the decision-making process. We want to stress that the decision affects the future of democratic development, limits the freedom of the media and pluralistic media environment and pose a threat to the country's Euro-Atlantic integration," says the statement.

The current leadership of Rustavi 2 claims they would continue working until “someone forcefully switches us off”.

The Georgian Deam leadership of the country responds it is not involved in any type of decision-making process concerning the Rustavi 2 case. It insists that is the dispute between two legal entities: the former owner of the TV channel Kibar Khalvashi and Rustavi 2 current owners. The officials stressed that they are not interfering in the court's activities, which is independent and gives decisions accordingly.