The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia started an investigation regarding pressure on two Supreme Court judges, Besarion Alavidze and Paata Katamadze. The two judges were discussing the Rustavi 2 case in the board of the Supreme Court of Georgia, and passed the case to the Grand Chamber. Alavidze and Katamadze approached the Prosecutor’s Office with the demand for an investigation regarding intrusion in a judge’s’ work.
The Prosecutor’s Office issued an official statement saying that the alleged pressure on the judges was coming from former government officials: “The judges were receiving short text messages on their phones and messages to their home addresses from former government officials, which included signs of rough intruding in the judges’ work.”
Earlier today, the Prosecutor’s Office stated that they would also investigate into leaked messages of Viber conversations between the former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, and politician Davit Sakvarelidze. In the messages, Sakvarelidze allegedly mentions two judges, and says that “parcels have been sent to them.” The authenticity of the messages has not been confirmed.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, they were approached by judges Alavidze and Katamadze with the investigation request on January 14, 2017. Their statements were co-signed with the Chairman of the Supreme Court, Nino Gvenetadze. The Prosecutor’s Office also stated that there have already been active investigative measures.
However, Nika Gvaramia, the director of the Rustavi 2 TV station -- over which the two judges were discussing the case -- claims that the judges were pressured to retract or alter their statements to the Prosecutor’s Office. He commented on the political allegiances of the Chairman of the Supreme Court, saying that: “The Chairman of the Supreme Court of Georgia is the ally of Georgian government. She sent the statements to the Prosecutor’s Office, and two days after, pressure started on the judges to either retract their submitted documents, or change the motivation of their statements. More specifically, for them to implicate not current government officials, but people affiliated with us, for example the former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili and his allies.”
Rustavi 2 TV Director Gvaramia went on to associate former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili in the case, and appealed to the President of Georgia. He said the situation looks like the “work of an orchestra led by Bidzina Ivanishvili,” and that “the only branch of the government which isn’t involved in this is the President of Georgia, which is the guarantor of freedom of expression. We ask him to be deeply informed about this case. We demand the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia to publish the plot of the judges’ statements and stop the pressure on judges. This pressure is quite massive, as it concerns not just judges, but their family member and affiliates as well.”
One of the leaders of the Movement for Liberty - European Georgia party, Gigi Ugulava, commented on the case, saying that the Chairman of the Supreme Court should have informed the public regarding the pressure on judges. He said that “there has not been such an incident in the history of Georgia when a judge would openly say that he or she is being pressured. It doesn’t require a lot of thinking to know from where this pressure comes from. If the judges had approached the Chairman on January 14, then she [Gvenetadze] should have announced it and not smothered the issue to the Prosecutor’s Office. That course of action is not a solution. The organs which pressured the judges had time to come up with a new falsified version for the public, as we saw a couple of days ago.” [i.e. the leak of text message exchanges -ed.]
On November 21, the Supreme Court of Georgia began hearings concerning the ownership of Rustavi 2 television channel. Rustavi 2 is appealing the decisions made by Tbilisi City Court and the Appellate Court on granting 100% of the TV company’s shares to Kibar Khalvashi and his company Panorama.
Rustavi 2 and several opposition parties see the ownership dispute as a political move, as the channel is known to be critical of the Georgian Dream government. The General Director of Rustavi 2, Nika Gvaramia, has said on numerous occasions that the Georgian Dream seeks to take over the company as they dislike the editorial policy of the channel. On June 10, 2016, 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 the former owner Kibar Khalvashi and his company Panorama. Phaty Khalvashi, Kibar Khalvashi’s sister, is a member of Georgian Dream party and an MP for the Kobuleti District.
Kiber Khalvashi filed a lawsuit in August 2015 to reclaim his shares in Rustavi 2. Khalvashi was a co-owner of Rustavi 2 from 2004 to 2006. Rustavi 2 is the biggest TV network in Georgia and has the country’s largest audience. International and local organizations have called upon the Georgian government to refrain from taking over the independent channel. The Rustavi 2 case garnered more attention in the run up to the 2016 parliamentary elections.