New information about two journalists killed before 2002
Dutch documentary filmmaker Pons Martens was placed under formal investigation on 17 February 2002 by an Italian prosecutor for complicity in the murder of Italian journalist Antonio Russo, a special correspondent of Radio Radicale covering the Chechnya war from Georgia who was found dead by a roadside northeast of Tbilisi on 16 October 2000. Detectives said he was killed because he had filmed brutality by Russian soldiers against civilians. This film has vanished. Martens was with Russo in Georgia. At the end of the year, the investigation was still going on.
Interior minister Koba Narchemashvili announced on 18 July the closure of the investigation into the murder of Georgy Sanaya, the star presenter of the independent TV station Rustavi 2, who was found in his apartment in Tbilisi on 26 July 2001 with a bullet in his head. He had presented news programmes and a daily political comment and interview show called "Evening News." He was one of the country’s most popular young TV presenters.
Chief state prosecutor Nugzar Gabrichidze said on 6 December 2001 that a former interior ministry official, Grigol Khurtsilava, had been identified as the suspected killer and had confessed to killing the journalist with his ministry service revolver. The authorities refused to give any details about the motive or the circumstances of the crime but said it was not connected with his journalistic activities.
Sanaya’s widow believes Khurtsilava was not the brains behind the murder and that the authorities are hiding key facts. Elena Tevdoradze, former head of the parliamentary human rights committee, said Sanaya had a video cassette showing the involvement of ministers and senior police officials in kidnappings in the Pankissi Gorges area. By the end of the year, no date had been set for Khurtsilava’s trial.
Journalists physically attacked
About 30 police burst into the offices of the local TV station Odishi in the western town of Zugdidi on 27 September. The station relays news programmes from Rustavi 2. They roughed up journalists and technicians and smashed video and computer equipment. Witnesses recognised deputy provincial police chief Robert Shikobava and Zugdidi deputy police chief Beglar Ponia among them.
The head of the station, Levan Kobalia, said the regional police chief himself, Elguja Zamburia, was also present. A few hours earlier, Rustavi 2 and Odishi had broadcast a report by journalist Ema Gogokhia about a brutal operation by police special forces in Zugdidi.
An hour after the police attack on the TV studios, four policemen went to Gogokhia’s house to look for her, but she was not there, so they attacked her mother and Gogokhia’s 10-year-old son, hitting him and trying to kidnap him. The journalist said they threatened to kill the whole family if a second report due to be broadcast by Rustav 2 a couple of days later went out. They added that, unlike Sanaya, the station’s presenter killed in July 2001, Gogokhia’s body would never be found. The second report, which went out as scheduled on 29 September, showed Ponia was involved in petrol racketeering. At the end of the year, a police enquiry into the incidents was still going on.
Vazha Gavasheli, correspondent of the newspaper Palitra Nedeli, was attacked by thugs on 28 November. Colleagues said they were sent by the family of a person he had mentioned in an article about a murder committed 15 years earlier.
Pressure and obstruction
The premises of the Tbilisi PresClub and the Liberty Institute, a human rights and press freedom NGO, were ransacked by seven or eight men with iron bars on 10July. The Institute’s head, Levan Ramishvili, was severely beaten and computer equipment destroyed. The two organisations had played a key role in the passage of a press law in 2002 that protected investigative journalists.
A demonstration organised in front of the offices on 8 July by a member of parliament, Guram Sharadze, had demanded the closure of the organisations, which put out news about corruption and revelations about the past of some local officials during the Soviet era.