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Five Faces Criminal Charges for Abusing Journalists

By Tea Mariamidze
Thursday, March 22
The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of Georgia has arrested five members of radical, nationalist group Georgian March for abusing journalists of Rustavi 2 TV during March 19 rally at the broadcaster’s headquarters, held in protest to Rustavi 2 journalist Giorgi Gabunia’s “improper” statements about Jesus Christ.

MIA reports that the five men were detained under the Article 239 (part II) of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which means premeditated group hooliganism.

The detained persons face 2 to 5 years of imprisonment, if found guilty.

“The MIA will protect each citizen and react to each act of violence, regardless of the motive," the statement of the ministry reads.

The police also launched the second investigation under the article 151 which envisages threat, after several letters containing threat were released in social media targeting Giorgi Gabunia.

The journalist says he cannot freely move in the street, adding the state provided him with a security guard, to ensure his safety.

“I am under threat at work and I do not even feel safe at home. It's very hard. I find it very painful when my freedom of expression is so limited,” the journalist stated.

The channel’s Director General Nika Gvaramia has held a special briefing, said that Gabunia’s statement insulted religious feelings and that the journalist was reprimanded for his words. But he demanded from the government to “toughly punish” those who behaved “like criminals” in the Rustavi 2 yard.

Gabunia himself said he is not going to apologize, as it was his own position, adding freedom of expression should be ensured in the country.

“If some people did not like my statement, it does not mean I meant to insult them. I will not apologize as I have done nothing wrong,” he stated.

The nationalist Georgian March and the Orthodox Mothers’ Union appeared at Rustavi 2 headquarters early on Monday, a day after journalist Giorgi Gabunia stated that the Jesus Christ made a mistake when he appeared in Israel centuries before.

“He [Jesus] should have come to Georgia’s Adjara region now as there would be no trees left for his crucifixion,” Gabunia said, referring to cutting and removing of trees in the region “to please” the Georgian Dream ruling party founder, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The Georgian March members stated that Gabunia insulted religious feelings of believers and demanded an apology from him.

They sieged into a car where Gabunia and Rustavi 2 lawyer Tamta Muradashvili were sitting.Also they physically abused sport journalist David Eradze.

10 opposition parties released a statement, saying the violent incident at Rustavi 2 was an attempt to “limit freedom of expression” and demanded from the law enforcement agencies to make a strict response to the journalists’ abuse and punish the perpetrators in full compliance with the law.

Prior this, several NGOs also made the similar statement and condemned the attack on the journalists.