CSOs Condemn Attacks on Journalists by Clerics

Local civil society organizations, Media Advocacy Coalition, Tolerance and Diversity Institute and Social Justice Center, also the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, a non-state self-regulatory body, condemned an “alarming” tendency of attacks on journalists by Orthodox Church clerics, and called on the Interior Ministry to “immediately investigate” into the cases of persecution against journalists as well as create a “free and safe work environment” for the media.

The organizations released separate statements following the latest incident that took place in the Vani and Baghdati Diocese, where Bishop Anton (Bulukhia) attacked Irakli Vachiberadze of the government-critical Mtavari Arkhi TV. The video footage aired by the channel shows Bishop Anton initially insulting the reporter by calling all journalists “gremlins” and “energy vampires,” and then hitting him in the neck. The Bishop was seemingly aggravated by Vachiberadze’s question about a confrontation between clergymen in Ruis-Urbnisi Diocese.

In a statement released on May 9, Media Advocacy Coalition, uniting some dozen CSOs, decried the incident as “illegal interference with journalistic activities” and called for “the tendency of persecuting journalists to stop.” The Coalition also noted that the Interior Ministry so far “has not reacted” to other similar incidents.

“Leaving such facts without strict reaction by law enforcement agencies further encourages such violence and interference with journalistic activities, that is extremely detrimental to media environment,” the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics stated on May 9, stressing that media representatives should be able to carry out professional activities freely.

Tolerance and Diversity Institute said on May 9 that attacks on journalists by “influential clerics” encourage “hatred and violence in the society.” The organization called on the Georgian Orthodox Church “to rethink its role as a religious institution and prevent violence by clergymen, attack on journalists as well as incitement of hatred in the society.”

“Such incidents, most frequently occurring against the representatives of pro-opposition TV channels are the result of the common reality of government’s hateful rhetoric and political polarization,” Social Justice Center stated on May 10.

The Interior Ministry has not launched an investigation into the Vani and Baghdati Diocese incident so far. Neither has the Georgian Orthodox Church made any official comments.

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