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Georgia23 May 2008

Several attacks on journalists during parliamentary elections

Reporters Without Borders condemns the physical attacks on journalists that occurred in various parts of the country while they were covering parliamentary elections on 21 May. The victims included a newspaper reporter in the eastern region of Kakheti and two TV crews and a reporter in the western region of Megrelia.

“We hope the authorities will take these attacks seriously,” the press freedom organisation said. “Journalists should not have to suffer because of the polarisation of Georgian society during elections. People should understood that journalists do not act on behalf of the government or the opposition, they are observers who act in the general interest.”

Eliso Chapidze, a reporter for the Tbilisi-based daily Rezonansi, was attacked by several men who appeared to be ruling party activists while she was photographing a polling station in Kvemo Magaro, a village in Kakheti. “The accosted me when I began to take photos,” she said. “One twisted my hand. Another took my camera and my accreditation.”

In an article in today’s issue of her newspaper, Chapidze said she was questioned for three hours at the local police station when she went to report the attack, and was threatened with reprisals if she wrote about the incident.

Reporter Aleko Gabunia and cameraman Nikoloz Pataraya of the Mze television station and a Rustavi 2 cameraman were attacked while covering an incident in the village of Rukhi, in Megrelia, involving members of the electoral commission and a candidate, Koba Davitashvili.

Unidentified individuals pushed the Rustavi 2 cameraman to the ground, causing his camera to break. The Mze crew filmed this, but they were then beaten by about 30 people. Pataraya sustained a gash to his hand, while Gabunia was hit on the head and legs. Gabunia said there was little left of their equipment.

In a separate incident in the Megrelia region, reporter Nana Pajava was insulted and hit several times by electoral commission members when she asked about a complaint that had been made by a government opponent. She reported the attack to the authorities and said she knew the identity of her assailants.

The police issued press statements about these attacks and said they would investigate.

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