13 opposition parties have issued a joint statement regarding the Rustavi 2 ownership case, saying that what is currently happening with the broadcaster could harm Georgia’s democratic path and Euro-Atlantic integration. The statement emphasizes that “international engagement will be decisive for sustaining freedom of the media, independence of the judiciary, and the democratic development of Georgia.”
The statement reads as follows:
“We, the undersigned political parties call on all relevant international organizations and democratic world to raise voice against the attacks on freedom of speech and media pluralism in Georgia.
Rustavi 2, the only major, pro-Western broadcasting company critical of Georgian Government is at the verge of takeover by Bidzina Ivanishvili, de facto ruler of the country. Rustavi 2 was the last major media outlet outside the control of former Prime Minister Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream party. On 2 March, against the backdrop of civil protest the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled behind the closed doors to attribute Rustavi 2 TV company ownership to Kibar Khalvashi, a brother of the Georgian Dream MP and a proxy of Ivanishvili.
By exerting his control on Rustavi 2, Ivanishvili will gain overwhelming control of political and public life. Notably, the decision of the Supreme Court, condemned by most credible international and Georgian civil society organizations, was made a day after the EU granted visa liberalization to Georgia. The decision is a major blow to judicial independence and runs contrary to the obligations taken by Georgian Government in its association agreement with the EU. All three instances of judicial proceedings failed to meet the requirements of an independent inquiry and due process and have been marred with aggressive interference of the Government. It is remarkable that first instance court literally spelled out that Rustavi 2’s editorial policy was a major factor in judicial decision, instead of stipulating sound legal rationale. Democracy in our country is in peril as the informal ruler Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream party have gained absolute control over executive and legislative branches and are destroying state institutions - including presidential office, while undermining independence of judiciary, including the Constitutional Court. All this might irreversably harm Georgia’s democratic path and Euro-Atlantic integration. We call on the European Parliament, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE to raise their voices regarding these alarming developments.
We believe that international engagement will be decisive for sustaining freedom of media, independence of judiciary and democratic development of Georgia.”
The opposition parties who signed the letter are: Movement for Liberty - European Georgia, Free Democrats, United National Movement, Labour Party, Civic Alliance for Freedom, State for the People, National Democratic Party, European Democrats of Georgia, New Union for Georgia, Civic Platform - New Georgia, Christian Conservative Party, Reformers Party and New Political Center Girchi.
On March 2nd, the Supreme Court of Georgia made a decision to grant ownership of the Rustavi 2 TV Company to former owner Kibar Khalvashi. The implementation of the decision was then suspended by the European Court of Human Rights on March 3rd.
Responding to the ECHR decision, 28 non-governmental organizations in Georgia called for the Strasbourg court to “use the right of temporary suspension mechanism until a final decision is made.” According to Transparency International Georgia, “this is especially important given that throughout the discussion of the case on the national level there have been questions regarding the independence, impartiality of the judges and political motivations of the government.”
The case received wide international attention from diplomatic organizations and members of European Parliament. The EU Delegation to Georgia and the U.S. Embassy Tbilisi also issued official statements raising concerns regarding freedom of media and freedom of speech in Georgia.
Tbilisi City Court and the Appellate Court of Georgia 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 final and cannot be appealed to another court in Georgia.