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Georgia18 August 2008

Three journalists killed since start of fighting, dozens injured and arrested

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Three journalists — Giga Chikhladze, correspondent of Russian Newsweek and head of Alania TV, Alexander Klimchuk, head of the photo agency Caucasus Press Images and correspondent for the news agency Itar-Tass, and Stan Storimans, cameraman for the Dutch TV station RTL-4 - have been killed since fighting began in Georgia on 8 August. The death of a fourth journalist, a Georgian, and his driver, reportedly in the bombing of Gori on 12 August, has not been confirmed.

The bodies of Chikhladze and Klimchuk were brought back to Tbilisi over the weekend with the financial help of Reporters Without Borders, which has also given money to their families.

Four Turkish journalists — Hilmi Hacaloglu, Cumhur Catkaya, Güray Ervin and Levent Öztürk - working for TV stations NTV and Kanal Türk, were caught in gunfire from Soujth Ossetian militiamen as they drove to Tskhinvali on 11 August.

The all-news station NTV showed film they shot while trapped and wounded in their jeep. The militiamen stopped shooting when the journalists identified themselves at a distance. Watch the video. The four flew back to Istanbul on 13 August.

(JPEG) Cameraman Öztürk, injured in the left eye, and reporter Ervin, who had been driving and was slightly wounded in the shoulder, were treated at Istanbul’s German hospital where the Reporters Without Borders correspondent visited them.

Öztürk has been released from intensive care and will have further tests but will probably lose his eye. "When I was hit, my eye went and I knew something bad had happened,” he said. “A few minutes later I was able to contact the others. We all kept calm but the shooting continued. It’s a miracle we’re still alive.”

Cameraman Catkaya was not hit but his camera was. “It probably saved my life,” he said when he arrived in Istanbul.

Tamara Urushadze, correspondent of the state-owned Georgian Public Broadcasting (GPB), was slightly wounded in the arm by sniper fire while reporting on 15 August.

Tzadok Yehezkeli, of the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, broke his leg in several places when he was caught in the Russian bombing of Gori on 12 August. He was operated on at Tibilisi’s Ghudushauri hospital and is out of danger.

A group of Israeli journalists was stopped by Russian soldiers in Gori on 14 August. Tzur Sheizaf, of the news website Ynetnews (the online version of Yedioth Ahronoth), was taking pictures near a Russian army checkpoint on the edge of Gori when a soldier stopped him and fired in the air, causing civilian panic. He demanded the keys of the vehicle carrying Sheizaf and three colleagues.

Sheizaf tried to get back in the vehicle but the soldier pushed him away, fired several shots at the ground in front of the journalist, ordered the other three to get out and drove off in the vehicle. It was returned to them half an hour later with their belongings and passports intact. “By chance, the theft was seen by a Russian commander who disapproved of it,” Sheizaf said.

Several media outlets have been ransacked during the fighting. Radio station Atinati went off the air on 13 August after the Russian army destroyed its antenna on the Urta hills, near Zugdidi. Station chief Gia Khasia said troops had taken away all its transmission equipment. Atinati broadcasts in Russian and Georgian with an audience in Abkhazia. It got back on the air using other equipment but with limited range.

Russian troops also ransacked the TV station Ergisi, in Senaki, 30 kms from Zugdidi, stealing several video cameras and computers. The station has not been able to resume broadcasting.

Lasha Berulava, correspondent for radio station Imedi and the news agency Interpress News, and Murad Partsvania, of the TV station Odishi, were arrested and held for several hours by the Russian army at the Tskemi military base, in the Abasha region.

  In this country
26 May - Georgia
Authorities urged not to rule out political motive in grenade attack on TV station
19 March - Georgia
Appointment of new head of news exacerbates situation at Imedi TV
10 September - Georgia / Russia
War still having serious impact on freedom of expression
13 August - Georgia
Russian and Georgian websites fall victim to a war being fought online as well as in the field
12 August - Georgia - South Ossetia
Heavy toll for journalists - four killed and four arrested since fighting broke out

in the annual report
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