Georgia: IPI welcomes release of critical journalist Nika Gvaramia

Positive development for media freedom in Georgia despite broader setbacks

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili addresses the Georgian Parliament (archive image)

The global network IPI today welcomed the release from prison of Nika Gvaramia, founder of the anti-government organization Mtavari TV channel in Georgia, following a pardon from Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili.

“We welcome Georgia’s release of Nika Gvaramia, which is, above all, a testament to the work of Georgia’s independent media and civil society, which remains committed to his freedom and the protection of freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Georgia,” Scott said , Deputy Director of the IPI Griffen said. “Gvaramia’s detention, together with the recently withdrawn law on ‘foreign agents’, raises serious concerns about Georgia’s commitment to fundamental rights in its desire to join the European Union.” There is no place for the detention of in a potential EU candidate country journalists or media harassment.”

On Thursday, June 22, President Zurabishvili announced that she had done so signed a pardon for Nika Gvaramia three days after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction. In May 2022, the Tbilisi City Court found Gvaramia guilty abuse of power while serving as a director of Rustavi 2 TVs and sentenced him to three and a half years in prison.

Local Rights Groups taken into account The charges were politically motivated and in retaliation for Gvaramia’s critical reporting of the government. After the detention of Gvaramia in 2022, the IPI issued a opinion demanded his immediate release. “We are deeply concerned by Nika Gvaramia’s prison sentence,” said Amy Brouillette, IPI’s Advocacy Director, after Gvaramia’s arrest. “Journalists in Georgia must be able to work freely and without fear of harassment and intimidation by the judiciary.”

In April, IPI, along with a coalition of other media freedom and journalism organizations, wrote one open letter to President Zurabishvili and asked her to pardon Gvaramia. The organizations called on the President to take “an important stand for press freedom in Georgia” by pardoning Gvaramia.

Prior to his career as a journalist, Gvaramia held prominent positions in Georgian politics, having held ministerial posts under the government of currently imprisoned ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili. After departing from Rustavi-2 in 2019, he launched Mtavari TVknown for its harsh criticism of the Georgian Dream government.

“She [President Zurabishvili] “I did it for her country of which she is President and I think it really adds to her dignity,” Gvaramia told Journalists after leaving the prison facilities. Gvaramia also expressed his commitment to helping Mtavari TV Channel overcome the financial challenges it is currently facing. However, he stressed that he would not return to his post as director of the Mtavari Canal.

Strong political polarization and EU membership application

This decision comes against the background of the deterioration of press freedom in Georgia and reflects the general democratic constitution slip back in the country. While Moldova and Ukraine were granted EU candidate status in June 2022, Georgia, initially considered in the same package, is still awaiting a definitive response.

Instead, the EU has identified 12 priorities for Georgia to address, including: Pursue stepping up efforts to ensure a free, professional, pluralistic and independent media environment, addressing political polarization and combating the outsized influence of oligarchic powers in all spheres of the country’s political life.

have EU politicians 4 Pardoning Gvaramia is a step to combat political polarization and support media independence. Georgia’s international partners welcome this decision. In a current opinionEuropean Council President Charles Michel expressed his support and appreciation for Zurabishvili’s decision.

On the other hand, the pardon was heavily criticized by the ruling Georgian Dream government. The leaders of the party referred called the act “disgraceful” and “unjust”. Speaker of Parliament Shalva Papuashvili accused Zurabishvili disregards the rule of law and violates the decision supported by the Georgian people and takes a different path.

Although the release of Gvaramia is a positive development for Georgia’s media landscape, the general press freedom situation in the country remains bleak. Scores of journalists and media workers have been attacked in recent years when covering far-right or anti-government protests, including the July 2021 incident that affected over 50 journalists attacked during the government-sponsored violence in Tbilisi, followed by the death of cameraman Aleksandre Lashkarava.

In March 2023 the Georgian Parliament passed A Russian-style law aimed at repressing civil society and media independence was passed at first reading, which met with strong international pressure and public opposition, eventually prompting Parliament to do so withdraw the statement.

IPI was one of the international organizations that prominently called on Georgian MPs to abolish legislation on “foreign agents”. “This kind of legislation has absolutely no place in a country that wants to join the European Union and is committed to the principles of democratic governance.” to create a safe and free environment for independent media outlets to do their jobs,” said Scott Griffen, Associate Director of the IPI, at the time.