Surface area: 69,700 sq. km.
Language: Georgian (off.)
Type of State: unitary republic
Head of State: Eduard Shevardnadze
Head of Government: Guia Arsenichvili
In a context of general corruption, violence against the press got worse in 2001. As threats against the journalists of the independent network, Rustavi 2, increased in 1999, the pressure applied against the network culminated in July with the murder of its star presenter. New pressure applied by the authorities provoked a strong reaction by the public in October and the government’s resignation. In his final term of office as President of the Republic, Eduard Shevardnadze is committed to ensuring democratic freedoms, but the police increase abuses and pressure on the press. In the separatist republic of Abkhazia (in the west), in conflict with Georgia since 1992, the regional authorities treat the critical press in the same way.
A journalist killed
On the morning of 26 July 2001 Georgy Sanaya, star presenter of the independent television network, Rustavi 2, was found murdered, shot in the head once, in his Tbilissi apartment. Georgy Sanaya presented the evening news and "Evening Courier" a daily political analysis and interview programme on Rustavi 2. He was one of the most popular young television presenters in Georgia. On the day itself the Georgian President announced on television that he was ordering the public prosecutor, the Ministry of the Interior and the special services to find those responsible for the murder. On 6 December 2001 Georgia’s Attorney General, Nugzar Gabrigaze, announced that Georgy Sanaya’s alleged killer had been identified as a former employee of the Ministry of the Interior. The suspect, Grigol Khurstsilava, had been dismissed for absenteeism twenty days after the murder. He admitted committing the murder with a service weapon registered at the Ministry of the Interior. The Attorney General refused to give any indication as to the motive for the crime. In 2000 another of the network’s journalists, Akaki Gogichaishvili, presenter of the weekly programme, "60 minutes", was threatened with death on several occasions by civil servants and businessmen because of his investigation into the corruption of certain state officials. On 19 May 2000 he said at a news conference that he had been invited to leave the country. On 22 May 2000 President Shevardnadze ordered the Ministers of the Interior and the special services to take all necessary measures to ensure the journalist’s protection and that of his family.
Two journalists attacked
On 24 February 2001 Tamaz Tsertsvadze, editor-in-chief of the weekly, Meridiani, was attacked near his home by unidentified assailants armed with iron rods. The journalist was found unconscious and had to be taken to hospital in critical conditions. Shortly before this attack the Meridiani editorial board had received several threatening phone calls against its journalists, ordering them to stop publishing articles criticising the authorities.
On the night of 12 October two unidentified assailants attacked Paata Kurashvili, director of the Caucas-Press press agency, while he was returning home after taking part in a television debate. Kurashvili was beaten and seriously wounded in the jaw and head by his attackers, who stole his money and cell phone. Robbery is considered the most likely motive.
Pressure and obstruction
On 1 April 2001 the journalists of the weekly, Meridiani, found the paper’s offices had been ransacked in the night and that their computer equipment containing the articles of the upcoming issue had vanished. Other objects of value had not been touched. Meridiani was temporarily obliged to suspend its publication.
On 11 June the weekly was again broken into at night. Several people had entered the Meridiani’s premises but, probably being surprised, fled at once. Nothing appeared to have been taken.
On 30 October 2001 the state police took possession of the independent television station, Rustavi 2, for a two-hour period. The police justified the operation by claiming the network had violated tax laws. A tax inspection just the week before, however, showed that the network had met all its obligations. Erosi Kintsmarishvili, one of the network’s founders, said that "this operation was politically motivated and ordered by those in power". The station provided live coverage of the occupation by the police. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in protest outside of the station’s offices. Asked about the incident, President Shevardnadze declared, "As long as I am President, there will be no threats against free speech in Georgia." On 31 October Vakhtang Kutateladze, Minister of the Interior, tendered his resignation to Eduard Shevardnadze, who accepted it and condemned the methods used. On 1 November several thousand demonstrators marched through the streets of Tbilissi calling for the resignation of the President and his government. A few hours later, the Georgian President dismissed the entire government in the hopes it would put an end to the political crisis.
On 15 November Izida Chania, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Nuzhnaya Gazeta, one of the most widely read dailies in Abkhazia, received a threatening anonymous telephone call urging her and her editorial staff to leave the country within 72 hours. The threat occurred after the paper published an article criticising the authorities of the separatist republic. In the previous months, following the departure of part of the Russian contingent of troops upon the urging of Abkhazia’s government head, Anri Jergenia, the paper was especially critical of the deterioration of the situation in the province. On several occasions the authorities had publicly threatened to close the paper. In the wake of the phone threat of November 15th, non-governmental organisations and leaders of the opposition provided protection at the home of the paper’s editor-in-chief.