Police arrested three young persons for assaulting anchor Vakho Sanaia of Formula TV and his relative on the night of February 24-25, in Tbilisi’s Vake district.
The suspects, who were reportedly drunk at the time of the assault, were charged with violence committed by a group against two or more individuals, under Article 126 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, foreseeing two-year imprisonment, the Interior Ministry said.
Recalling the incident, Sanaia said the attack was a result of “the propaganda pursued [by the ruling Georgian Dream party] against critical TV channels.” He said the assailants recognized him as a journalist and approached him, trying to provoke him. During the violent incident, the assailants apparently shouted insults against the TV channels where Sanaia has worked – Formula TV and TV Pirveli. Both of these channels are critical to the Georgian Dream government.
Sanaia said the incident occurred when he was returning from Tbilisi airport with his wife, sister-in-law, infant child, and child’s babysitter, and the car broke down. He recalls, that while the family was waiting for the emergency tow, one of the men, loitering nearby, recognized the journalist approached him, and tried to provoke him. As the journalist asked him to go away, the assailant charged with his fist at the ready, and the two fell on the frozen ground. “I moved back and the person fell, but the [ground] was frozen so I slipped and also fell. Then the other two [assailants] approached me and began to hit [me],” Sanaia said.
The police, called by Sanaia’s sister-in-law detained the attackers on the spot, Sanaia said.
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said he condemns “any kind of violence against any citizen, especially against a representative of the media,” and thanked the Interior Ministry for effectively arresting the attackers. “I assure you, the response from the state will be adequate and the perpetrators will be held accountable with the full severity of the law,” he added.
Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze also condemned the attack against Sanaia. “Timely and effective investigation of the incident shall be a clear message to those, who believe violence is the answer,” he asserted.
Another Georgian Dream lawmaker, EU Integration Committee Chair Maka Bochorishvili responded to the claim that the attack was a “consequence” of Government officials’ rhetorics. “It is unfortunate, that we are in a competition on who can spew more hate speech. There is no shortage of hate speech coming from journalists either,” she said.
Some 20 Georgian opposition parties, in a joint statement, said that the attack on Sanaia was “a consequence of an extremely dangerous and provocative environment created by the Ivanishvili regime.” The parties also accused the GD of “encouraging violence” against its opponents and citizens critical of the Government.
In the current turbulent political context in #Georgia, news anchor Vakho Sanaia and his relatives were assaulted by 3 men after a verbal spat, with insulting remarks against pro-opposition channels. @RSF_inter calls the authorities for a transparent and independent investigation pic.twitter.com/9pmVMcWJvN
— RSF in English (@RSF_en) February 25, 2021
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based press freedom watchdog, called on the authorities for a transparent and independent investigation.
The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, a non-state, self-regulatory body of journalists also called on the authorities, to ensure journalists’ safety and investigate the incident appropriately. “The Government officials’ aggressive rhetoric toward the media reflects negatively on the safety of journalists,” the Charter added.
Transparency International Georgia said the attack on Sanaia set “a dangerous precedent,” a consequence of the “Government’s aggressive and hateful rhetoric” directed at “critical media, journalists, and people who have a different opinion.”
Rights Georgia, a local advocacy group, appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office to consider intolerance as an aggravating factor in the incident, and press additional charges on the suspects, under Article 53 (1) of the Criminal Code of Georgia.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi also condemned the attack and urged the authorities “to complete a full investigation into this case, as well as other outstanding cases of violence against journalists.”