Expression

Statements issued to raise concern over media freedom

On 9th June 2020, several civil society organisations under the Media Advocacy Coalition issued a statement opposing proposed changes to the media laws which they said would unjustly limit freedom of expression. The organisations challenged the Broadcasting bill and amendments to the Electronic Communications Act initiated by the Communications Commission which would confer unfettered executive powers on the Commission to regulate the media. In particular, they said that the changes would enable the commission to fully control media distribution, access to the Internet, advertising services and issues pertaining to employment and labour.

The following day, on 10th June 2020, a similar statement was issued by eleven media outlets who raised similar concerns about the legal changes, which they added would lead to censorship by allowing full control of media activities by the state without a corresponding obligation for judicial oversight.

The groups called on the parliament, the Communications Commission and the ombudsperson to meet with civil society and media representatives to discuss the proposed changes.

In a statement issued on 3rd July 2020, the Media Advocacy Coalition expressed concern about the alarming situation regarding media freedom in Georgia. This followed the launching of investigations by authorities into a TV story aired by pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV Channel under allegations of sabotage.The TV story in question reported that medical staff and local authorities were allegedly offering money to residents of the southern, ethnic Azeri majority Marneuli Municipality so that they would mention COVID-19 as the cause of death of their family members or relatives.

According to authorities, the TV station deliberately mistranslated Azerbaijani-language interviews and misinformed the public with a view to incite protests and impede the smooth functioning of government institutions.

Journalists institute case for injuries sustained in June 2019 protest

The violent dispersal of the June 2019 protests (see above in peaceful assembly section) which led to at least 240 people being injured also saw several journalists sustain injuries. In June 2020 it was reported that the European Court of Human Rights had allowed the institution of a case by journalists Merab Tsaava, Beslan Kmuzoff and Zaza Svanadze for injuries sustained during the protest. The case was filed after their efforts to seek redress using local mechanisms were rejected by authorities.

Peaceful Assembly

March held to protest gagging of journalists at media outlet

Separately, on 26th June 2020, protesters marched outside the premises of Adjara TV and Radio, a publicly funded media outlet, denouncing the management’s continued pressure on journalists which prevents them from freely reporting on certain issues.

The protesters demanded the reinstatement of journalists unfairly dismissed from the outlet and called for changes in the election of the outlet’s board of advisors. The outlet is said to have the backing of the country’s ruling party, the Georgian Dream Party, and its board is composed of advisors appointed by the political parties.

Commemorative march organised on anniversary of June 2019 protests

On 20th June 2020, a commemorative march was held in front of the parliament of Georgia in downtown Tbilisi, on the one year anniversary of major anti-government demonstrations that were held in protest at Russia’s continued occupation of Georgian territory. In the June 2019 protests, clashes erupted between demonstrators and law enforcement officers, leading to at least 240 injured people.

Association

U.S. Funding pegged on steps to improve democracy

In other developments, on 9th July 2020, the United States House Appropriations Committee approved funding to Georgia under the fiscal year 2021 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs bill. Availability of 15% of the funds approved however was pegged on the state of democracy in the country. Specifically, the release of this amount to the government of Georgia will be dependent on whether the government will take steps to protect the rights of civil society, implement electoral reform and respect the judiciary, among others.

Commemorative march organised on anniversary of June 2019 protests

On 20th June 2020, a commemorative march was held in front of the parliament of Georgia in downtown Tbilisi, on the one year anniversary of major anti-government demonstrations that were held in protest at Russia’s continued occupation of Georgian territory. In the June 2019 protests, clashes erupted between demonstrators and law enforcement officers, leading to at least 240 injured people.