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Georgia2 October 2002

Police smash up TV station and threaten to kill journalist and family

Reporters Without Borders called today for punishment of police who made deaths threats and went on a rampage at a TV station in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi last week hours after it had broadcast criticism of them.

About 30 police broke into the offices of the Odishi TV station, beat journalists and technicians and destroyed video and computer equipment. Later they physically attacked the mother and young son of journalist Ema Gogokhia, regional correspondent for the independent station Rustavi 2 (whose news programmes Odishi rebroadcasts), and threatened to kill the whole family. Gogokhia had helped make two programmes that denounced police violence and a corrupt local police chief.

"We are deeply shocked by this episode," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Georgian President Edvard Shevardnadze. "Such violence in full view of everyone, as well as the attack on the child, just because journalists had done their job means the death threats to Gogokhia and her family must be taken very seriously. We insist you thoroughly investigate and prosecute those responsible, even if they are government officials."

Eye-witnesses said the attackers included the deputy provincial police chief, Robert Shikobava, and the deputy police chief of the Zugdidi district, Beglar Ponia. The managing editor of Odishi, Levan Kobalia, said he also recognised regional police chief Elguzha Zhamburia among them.

Earlier in the day, the station had put out the first Rustavi 2 report about violence by special police units in Zugdidi against demonstrators protesting against the transfer to the capital, Tbilisi, of four people suspected of killing a police officer, Simon Marmania.

An hour after the attack on the station, four policemen went to Gogokhia’s home, but she was not there. They beat her mother and 10-year-old son, who they tried to kidnap. Neighbours stopped the child being taken away and heard police warn the mother that she would soon be receiving the severed head of her daughter.

Gogokhia said they threatened to kill her family if the second report was broadcast. They said that, unlike star Rustavi 2 presenter Georgiy Sanaya, who was murdered on 26 July last year, her body would never be found. The second report went out on 29 September and implicated Ponia in a petrol smuggling racket.

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