Based on recent development, there is a risk that media activities may be associated with working in health-threatening conditions, which is directly related to the restriction of media freedom, its right to disseminate information and ideas.
Freedom of the press is a special part of the freedom of expression protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. According to the first paragraph of Article 10 of the Convention, everyone has freedom of expression. This right includes a person’s freedom to hold opinions, receive or spread information or ideas without interference from public government. According to Article 154 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, it is punishable to unlawfully interfere with the journalist’s professional activities, i.e. coercing a journalist into disseminating or not disseminating information.
According to the information spread, on June 27, Misha Mshvildadze, one of the founder of “Formula” Television Company, was attacked at the entrance of the shopping center. The defendant was arrested on June 28 and charged under Article 126, Part 1 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which refers to violence that caused physical pain to the victim. According to the information of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, statements made by Mshvildadze in the public space became the motive for the violence committed by the defendant. Currently, the detention has been applied against the accused as a measure of restraint , and the Ministry of Internal Affairs handed over the case to the Special Investigation Service for investigation . According to Misha Mshvildadze, state structures may have been involved in the planning and organization of the violence, in particular, one of the participants of the attack may be an investigator of the State Security Service.
Subjective statements made by the authorities in top governmental positions on such facts may become a tool to justify the perpetrators and encourage violence. Actually, it’s a positive obligation of the government to take effective steps, on the one hand, to conduct the investigation properly and on the other hand to prevent illegal action involving violence.
Also, from the recent events, it’s worth noting the information spread on July 12 regarding the case of the former TV presenter. According to the information of Vasil Dabrundashvili, documents were lost from his house, including the decision of the Tbilisi Prosecutor’s Office to recognize him as a victim, which was made in 2022 in the case of illegal wiretapping and secret surveillance. According to the mentioned decision, the State Security Service was illegally listening to the journalist and decoding his text messages. Also, several international accreditations confirming the journalist’s activities disappeared. At the same time as these events, Dabrundashvili thinks that illegal surveillance of him is actively taking place in order to continue his persecution due to his professional activities.
Although the information about the case of illegal surveillance and disappearance of documents from the house was spread on July 12, the Special Investigation Service sent the information to the Ministry of Internal Affairs six days later, and the journalist was interviewed on July 19. It’s important for the government to react immediately to such facts, so as not to create an additional risk of violation of the freedom of activity of the journalist and the inviolability of his personal life.
Also, on July 13, information was spread about the robbery of the car of Nodar Meladze, the head of the TV channel Pirveli information service. From the journalist’s car were taken only the things that were important for the implementation of his journalistic activities, including the external hard drive of the TV Company’s computer. In connection with the mentioned case the investigation under Article 177 (theft) is ongoing, one person has been arrested and the journalist is recognized as a victim. Nodar Meladze thinks that the mentioned robbery is an imitation of intimidation based on his professional activity.
In one of the cases considered by the European Court of Human Rights, where the publication was forced to stop functioning due to attacks on journalists, the court found a violation of torture and freedom of expression and ordered the state to pay the journalist 3000 Euros as compensation for moral damages, since the protection of freedom of expression is a positive obligation of the government.
Above mentioned and similar incidents of violence may have a chilling effect and have a particular impact on freedom of expression. Physical attacks and a threatening environment will lead to an exodus of journalists from the profession and the country.
In order to avoid all of this the government should take a quick and adequate response in order to ensure a safe media environment. It’s important that an independent and effective investigation to be carried out to ensure that all those involved in the crime were held accountable. Government’s representatives should publicly condemn all cases of violence and make clear statements in support of freedom of expression and professional freedom of journalists.
Human Rights Center