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Georgia16 January 2004

Media facing harassment in Adjara Autonomous Republic

Reporters Without Borders has expressed concern about harassment of the media in the Adjara Autonomous Republic. In one week, several journalists have been set upon, physically attacked or prevented from working in this region where a state of emergency was declared on 7 January 2004. Since the departure of Eduard Shevardnadze, the authorities in the region have effectively refused to accept the authority of Nino Burdjanadze, who is interim president until Mikhail Saakashvili, elected on 2 January, can take over.

The international press freedom organisation has called on the President of the Adjara Autonomous Republic Aslan Abashidze, to do everything possible to allow journalists to work normally and that those responsible for the violence and obstruction towards them are identified and punished.

Around 15 thugs beat a cameraman of the television channel Imedi, Davit Gogitauri, and seized his camera on 13 January in Batumi (capital of the Adjara Autonomous Republic). He had been about to interview a men who was attacked after hanging from his window the traditional Georgian flag, symbol of the National Movement party of the new president Mikhail Saakashvili.

In Gonio village on 11 January, around 15 men dressed in black beat journalists Mzia Amaglobeli and Eter Turadze, from the magazine Batumelebi, and seized and damaged the camera of Diana Trapaidze, of the television channel Imedi. They also seized video equipment from Nestan Sheckhladze of independent television Rustavi 2. The journalists were attacked as they covered a demonstration in support of President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Police officers in Batumi had earlier set on Diana Trapaidze, of Imedi, and Nestan Sheckhladze, of Rustavi 2, on 10 January after they filmed the police ripping down posters of the Kmara movement. This movement spearheaded the protest during the "rose revolution", which saw the peaceful resignation of President Eduard Shevarnadze and the taking of power by the opposition after legislative elections on 2 November 2003. The police accused the two journalists of giving publicity to Kmara

Journalist Tedo Jorbenadze, of the magazine Batumelebi, who was also present, was beaten by the police officers. The three journalists were held for less than an hour and then released after the intervention of a former Adjarian parliamentary deputy, Aslan Smirba, and the interior ministry press officer Davit Gergedava.

A journalist from Rustavi 2, Irakli Shetciruli, was prevented from crossing the Chokoli administrative border overnight on 7-8 January. A member of the security forces told the journalist in a sarcastic tone that his television channel had caused a revolution in Georgia and asked if he was planning on doing the same in Adjara. The Adjarian interior ministry said that the refusal was legitimate, since there was a state of emergency in the autonomous republic. The journalist had just finished reporting on the arrest of members of Kmara movement.

Reporters Without Borders recalled that the independent television channel Rustavi 2 has been banned from broadcasting in Adjari since 25 November 2003. The authorities in the autonomous republic began virulently criticising the channel on the day of legislative elections, after it announced results of a poll according to which the Renewal Union party of Aslan Abashidze was polling poorly. The channel also gave wide coverage to the demonstrations that followed the elections and that called for the departure of President Shevardnadze and Aslan Abashidze.

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