The IPI global network is alarmed by attacks on press freedom in Georgia, after TV station director Nika Gvaramia was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for corruption in what some say was a politically motivated trial. We call for Gvaramia’s immediate release and urge authorities to respect freedom of the press.
A Tbilisi court on May 16 found Gvaramia guilty of abuse of power while he was the director of Rustavi-2 TV channel in 2019. He is currently the director of Mtavari Arkhi TV, which is regarded as an “opposition” station. According to the prosecution, Gvaramia used a company car for his family’s needs, embezzled property rights, falsified documents, laundered money and engaged in bribery. In addition to the lengthy prison term, he was ordered to pay 50.000 lari (16.300 USD) fine for embezzlement. His co-defendant, former financial director of Rustavi-2 Kakhaber Damenia was also fined.
Transparency International Georgia stated that based on their observation of the process, the case of Gvaramia was politically motivated and intended to punish him. The charges were aimed to disrupt the work of the TV channel which is critical of the Georgian government. The U.S. Embassy in Georgia also commented on the case by calling it alarming and questioning Georgia’s commitment to the rule of law.
Nino Lomjaria, the ombudsman of Georgia stated that no evidence of wrongdoing by Gvaramia has been found.
Gvaramia is a well-known figure in Georgian politics. He served in ministerial positions in the government of the now imprisoned former president, Mikheil Saakashvili. He is also one of Saakashvili’s lawyers. He founded Mtavari Arkhi TV after leaving Rustavi-2 in 2019. In 2012, he faced for corruption charges and was later acquitted.
“We are deeply concerned by the prison conviction of Nika Gvaramia”, IPI Head of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “Journalists in Georgia must be able to work freely and without fear of judicial harassment and intimidation. As Georgia looks to join the European Union, the government should be demonstrating its commitment to press freedom rather than punishing critical journalism.”
Transparency International Georgia pointed out that activities of critical media have become dangerous in Georgia, with an increasing number of physical attacks on journalists and the failure by authorities to investigate these cases. In July 2021, more than 50 journalists and media workers were injured, and one camera operator died, while covering anti-Pride protests in Tbilisi. According to the organization, the government has failed to investigate or prosecute those responsible.