A group of non-governmental organizations in Georgia are calling on the Supreme Court to consider the Rustavi 2 case. In a joint statement published on June 13, the NGOs talk about possible political influence over the judicial process, and point out how court previous hearings have strengthened doubts about the legitimacy of the judicial process in the Rustavi 2 case. The signatories of the statement include Transparency International - Georgia, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC), Civil Development Agency (CIDA), Atlantic Council of Georgia, and the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA).
The statement reads: “Today, legal representatives of Rustavi 2 have appealed the decree of Tbilisi Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia. As a result of the hearing in the court of second instance, the decision of the Tbilisi City Court stating the ownership of 100% shares of the company by Kibar Kalvashi remained unaffected.
The civil sector has been intensively observing the ongoing trials. During this period, we have made several statements concerning the issues of the whole process, including the decreased period of appeal, as well as the groundless court ruling. The NGOs point out that they are doubting the legitimacy of the court hearings.
Taking into account some of the circumstances as a background to the hearings in Tbilisi Court of Appeal[s] and especially in the court of first instance, the doubts are strengthened on the possible political influence on the judiciary in the case what we are highly concerned by. Especially in the pre-election period, these series of events around the critical television, that can possibly cause a change in its editing politics, damages the pluralistic media environment, as well as the quality of democracy of the country.
We urge the Supreme Court of Georgia to consider and trial the case with the complete protection of the legislation, in order to exclude the questions about possible political interests in the case that are present during the trials.”
The Supreme Court is about to decide whether or not to accept the Rustavi 2 case for consideration. Previously, on June 10, the Appellate Court announced its decision to leave the previous verdict of the Tbilisi City Court unchanged, which ruled that 100% of the assets of Rustavi 2 are the property of former owner Kibar Khalvashi and his company Panorama. Kiber Khalvashi, filed a lawsuit in August 2015 to claim back his shares of the company. Khalvashi was a co-owner of Rustavi 2 in 2004-2006. Rustavi 2 is the biggest TV network in Georgia with the largest audience. It voices critical opinions of the government. International and local organizations have called upon the Georgian government to refrain from taking over the opposition-minded channel. The Rustavi 2 case has gained more importance and attention as the election campaign is officially underway in Georgia.
Rustavi 2 and opposition parties (United National Movement and Free Democrats) see the ownership dispute as a political move, considering that the channel is critical of the Georgian Dream government. The General Director of Rustavi 2, Nika Gvaramia, has said numerous times that that Georgian Dream seeks to take over the company.