The Supreme Court hearing of the Rustavi 2 TV ownership dispute begins today. It is a closed hearing. The TV company said it will hold a permanent demonstration outside the Supreme Court building until the decision is announced; the Rustavi 2 protesters are saying that they will not allow the government to change the editorial policy of the station.
Both sides, including Rustavi 2 representatives and former owner Kibar Khalvashi and his lawyers, have asked for several judges in the Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court who are sitting on the case to be recused. The decision on whether they will be recused will most probably be made today, by the Supreme Court.
Members of Parliament from the Movement for Liberty - European Georgia are also participating at the demonstration in support of Rustavi 2. MP Giga Bokeria said they are protesting against control of media: “This is not a case regarding who likes Rustavi 2’s editorial policy and who does not. The key issue here is whether one individual, the informal ruler of this country, Bidzina Ivanishvili, will be able or not to achieve his will and have all the instruments over media discussion on the national level. This will be a hard hit for everybody... it will cause great harm to the country, and that’s what we are protesting.”
Other opposition parties including the United National Movement and Free Democrats have also expressed their support towards Rustavi 2. A statement released today by the Free Democrats reads: “We should resist together against the government, which is inclined to the usurpation of power. We should establish the supremacy of the law and principles of equality against the law.”
Rustavi 2 TV’s director, Nika Gvaramia, stated at a special briefing on March 1 that the station is prepared for any developments, including the possibility of losing in what he called an “unlawful” and unequal battle” against the government, and specifically against the “one oligarch who is playing with the destiny, democracy, and future of the country”.
The Supreme Court’s final decision could be announced already today. Tbilisi City Court and the Appellate Court of Georgia have previously decided to grant 100% ownership of the TV company to former owner Kibar Khalvashi; his sister has been an MP for the Georgian Dream party since 2012. Rustavi 2 applied to appeal the decisions to the Supreme Court. The decision of the Supreme Court of Georgia is the final one and cannot be appealed to another court in the country.
There have been accusations of partisanship and corruption in judging the Rustavi 2 case. Earlier in February, activists from Rustavi 2 and the UNM protested at Tbilisi City Hall when city hall granted 1 million GEL to the brother of one of the judges in the Appellate Court who was ruling over the Rustavi 2 case. The opposition leaders were saying the money is to award the judge for siding with the government’s wishes in the case. Also in February, the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia said they were approached by two judges of the Supreme Court with an investigation request regarding intervention in the judges’ work. The two judges had passed the Rustavi 2 case to the Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court in November 2016.