The Coalition for Independent and Transparent Judiciary would like to comment on the guilty verdict delivered against Mr Nika Gvaramia, director of Mtavari TV. The ruling represents another concerning example of pressure exerted on critical media organizations, raising questions regarding the legitimacy of the ruling and showing signs of selective and politicized justice.
On May 16th, 2022, Tbilisi City Court judge Lasha Chkhikvadze, sentenced Mr Gvaramia to three years and six months of imprisonment and imposed a fine for the abuse of power in respect of the events occurring during his tenure as a director of TV Rustavi 2.
The Coalition relies upon and supports the opinion of the Amicus Curiae in this case, which was advanced by the Public Defender's Office, and was based on a study of the case files and analysis of international and local practices and standards relevant to the case. According to the opinion, even a harmful decision made by a director of an enterprise cannot attract criminal liability, but may only in exceptional cases result in corporate legal liability. Furthermore, a director’s decision that leads to reduced profits can still serve the corporation’s best interests or mitigate short or long-term risks.
The finding that a crime has been committed in the so-called "car episode” is also problematic, while the imposition of the most severe form of punishment - imprisonment – and its proportionality, raise further questions. Notably, the law envisages lighter sentences for the abuse of power, which is a less severe crime. At the same time, according to the general principles of sentencing, a stricter form of punishment can be imposed only if the purposes of the sentence cannot be achieved otherwise.
The judge's impartiality is also questionable in this case. Zaza Gvelesiani, a close friend of the judge, is the current director of Rustavi 2’s managing company. Therefore, the media holding’s director had a direct financial interest in the outcome of the case.
According to the Criminal Procedures Code and the Bangalore Principles of the Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge is obliged to recuse himself from a case if there are circumstances that cast doubt on his objectivity and impartiality. Nevertheless, the judge failed to recuse himself in this case.
In a democratic society, it is important that the judiciary enjoys high levels of public trust. To achieve these goals, the justice administered by the courts must meet the democratic and competence standards. These requirements are particularly important in cases involving the essential freedoms that exist in a democratic society, such as the freedom of the media, which should be protected in cases involving a director of a broadcaster whose editorial policy is free from the government’s interference. Such cases have an impact on a specific television’s independence and operation, as well as on the freedom of speech and expression and the country’s political stability, in general.
For many years, the independence and impartiality of the Georgian judiciary has been facing systemic challenges. There is a growing tendency of politicizing and instrumentalizing justice for political purposes, which undermines the institutional mechanisms for the protection of human rights, freedom and security, and prevents the effective oversight of the government in this country. At the same time, this situation further deepens the public’s distrust in the judiciary.
The flawed administration of justice, which significantly affects and degrades the existing media environment and standards of protection of human rights and freedoms in general, further aggravates the political crisis and deepens the polarization in the country. At the same time, it fails to ensure stable democratic development and has a negative impact on the ongoing crucial processes of European integration.