We, Media Advocacy Coalition member organizations, respond to the statement of Nika Gvaramia, director and founder of Mtavari Arkhi TV channel, that “he was threatened with arrest and confiscation of property”.
We have repeatedly expressed reasonable suspicion that Nika Gvaramia is systematically pressured in various ways by representatives of the ruling party due to his critical views.
In summer of 2019, the former General Director of Rustavi 2 TV, Nika Gvaramia, was charged, among other things, with abuse of power and misappropriation of property. Law enforcement bodies did not provide any significant explanation on the case. It is important to note, that the Public Defender has concluded that the criminal prosecution against Gvaramia was legally unfounded – on November 4, 2019, the Public Defender appealed to the Tbilisi City Court in the ongoing criminal case against Nika Gvaramia in the status of Amicus Curiae. The Public Defender’s Office has fully analyzed the materials on the criminal case submitted by the defense. The public document states, “according to laws and international practice/standards, a decision made by a director of an enterprise, even a harmful one, cannot be subject to criminal liability; it may only be subject to corporate legal liability and even this may happen only in exceptional cases. The decision of a director, even if it brings less profit, may serve the best interests of the corporation and provide short or long-term risk insurance.“
In March 2020, following the political negotiations facilitated by the diplomatic corps, the trial of Nika Gvaramia was suspended. It is noteworthy that the trial of Nika Gvaramia was resumed after the parliamentary elections on December 1, 2020. However, on December 2, 2020, the hearing was postponed again.
On December 12, 2020, Gvaramia made a statement that he was threatened with arrest and confiscation of property.
It should be also noted that in 2020, the State Security Service launched another investigation into Mtavari Arkhi, on charges of sabotage, but the investigation is not over yet.
The issue of personal safety of Nika Gvaramia and the members of his family has been raised several times over the past year. According to information disseminated by Mtavari Akrhi on January 30, 2020, several individuals attacked and physically assaulted Nika Gvaramia in the courtyard of the Tbilisi City Court. The results of the investigation are unknown to the public. Also in early 2020, Nika Gvaramia stated that his family had been under surveillance by the prosecutor’s office for 28 days. According to him, informing him about the surveillance was aimed at putting psychological pressure on him and his family.
The Coalition has repeatedly stated that verbal attacks on and irresponsible assessments of the media by representatives of the ruling political party and the executive power are unacceptable. Among these is the statement of the Member of the Parliament of Georgia, Tea Tsulukiani, dated December 14, 2020, about the surveillance on Nika Gvaramia’s wife and minor child.
Against the background of constant criticism of the non-governmental media by the authorities, we are worried that the aim of the criminal prosecution against Nika Gvaramia is to change the editorial policy of Mtavari Akrhi, which has a negative impact on the Mtavari Akrhi team and the working environment of journalists.
Media Advocacy Coalition’s member organizations express their support for Nika Gvaramia and the Mtavari Akrhi. We call on international partners to put the issues of journalists’ safety and media freedom on the political agenda, to protect the director and founder of Mtavari Akrhi from obvious threats and political persecution.