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ECHR Rules over Rustavi 2 TV Ownership Dispute

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In its judgement of July 18, the seven-member Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) declared there has been no breach in fair trial guarantees in Rustavi 2 ownership dispute.

Rustavi 2 TV was complaining over Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial), Article 10 (freedom of expression), Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights), and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court “declared inadmissible” the complaints brought by Rustavi 2 TV concerning the freedom of expression, limitation on use of restriction of rights and protection of property, and found that there had been no violation of independence and impartiality of the judges who decided on the ownership dispute over the Rustavi 2 TV.

Regarding the ownership dispute, in particular, the Court “found that the television channel did not have standing to bring a complaint about the main proceedings, namely the ownership row over Rustavi 2 shares.”

“A person or company could not complain of a violation of the Convention in proceedings to which he or she had not been a party. Rustavi 2 was the object rather than the subject of the ownership dispute and it could not therefore claim to possess an interest,” the Registrar of the Court said in its official press release.

Concerning the complaint of Rustavi 2 that questioned the independence and impartiality of judges at all levels, in today’s Chamber judgment the European Court held:

  • By six votes to one, that there had been no violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal) of the European Convention on Human Rights as concerned the judge deciding the case at first-instance;
  • Unanimously, that there had been no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention as concerned the court deciding the case on appeal;
  • By six votes to one, that there had been no violation of Article 6 § 1 as concerned the composition of the bench deciding the case during the cessation proceedings before the Supreme Court.

According to the Registrar, the Court “found in particular that all but one of the allegations of bias had either been unsubstantiated or unconvincing.”

The Court, “unanimously, rejected as inadmissible” the remaining complaints including the allegations that “the proceedings had been a State-led campaign to silence the television channel.”

In coming to those conclusions, the Court bore in mind in particular that Rustavi 2’s owners had systematically introduced ill-founded recusal requests against many different judges at all three levels of jurisdiction in a probable attempt to paralyse the administration of justice, while Rustavi 2’s Director General had made gratuitous and virulent attacks in the media against the domestic judges involved in examining the ownership row and against the Georgian judiciary in general,” the press release says.

The Court also ruled “to discontinue” suspension of the enforcement of the Supreme Court’s decision of March 2017, which granted the ownership rights of Rustavi 2 TV, to its former co-owner Kibar Khalvashi.

Rustavi 2 Director-General Nika Gvaramia said he would appeal the decision before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Background

The Supreme Court of Georgia, the country’s highest court of appeal, ruled on March 2, 2017 in favor of the former co-owner of Rustavi 2 TV, the country’s most-watched television broadcaster.

Chaired by the Supreme Court Head Nino Gvenetadze, the Court’s nine-judge Grand Chamber considered the case without oral hearing and issued its ruling, granting the ownership rights to Kibar Khalvashi.

On March 3, the European Court of Human Rights decided to temporarily suspend the enforcement of the Supreme Court’s March 2 decision, while on March 7 decided to prolong the suspension “until further notice.”

Current owners of Rustavi 2, including brothers Giorgi and Levan Karamanishvili, ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili’s close associates, have been entangled in a court battle with its former co-owner Kibar Khalvashi, who tries to regain control over the television channel, which he co-owned in 2005-2006.

Rustavi 2 TV ownership changed for multiple times after Khalvashi sold his shares and before brothers Karamanishvili became majority shareholders in 2011. But Khalvashi claims that all those changes of ownership were in fact sham deals and brothers Karamanishvili are also nominal shareholders of the Rustavi 2, which he insists, is in fact under ex-President Saakashvili’s control.

The TV channel, which claimed that former owner’s lawsuit to regain the broadcaster was orchestrated by the Georgian Dream government with the aim to seize the channel, lost the battle in all three national courts.

Rustavi 2 TV and many of the opposition parties say that the court case is an attempt by the authorities, and specifically by ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is widely considered to be still wielding much influence on government, to silence the television station critical of government’s policies.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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