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Assailants of TV Anchor Found Guilty, Released from Jail

The Tbilisi City Court found today three men guilty on charges related to assaulting Vakho Sanaia, anchor of government-critical Formula TV channel, but the convicts were able to leave the prison on the same day.

The assailants – Suliko Sakevarishvili, Vazha Gigauri, and Giorgi Sakhelashvili – were convicted on charges of persecution on the basis of professional activities perpetrated with violence, while Gigauri was additionally found guilty of threatening on a discriminatory basis.

The judge sentenced all three to 6 months in prison each, the sentence, however, was equal to a time already served in pre-trial detention, allowing the convicts to leave the jail on August 25, the same day of the trial.

Sakevarishvili and Gigauri were additionally sentenced to 150 hours of community service each.

The court said that upon sentencing the judge took earlier clean criminal and administrative offense records of the defendants into account.

Sanaia called the ruling “shameful,” saying the judge deliberately postponed the trials several times to give the suspects minimal punishments possible and get them released from jail.

The journalist said the “unfair” trial again breeds crime. “This is contagious, contagious for others,” he went on, noting that such a situation led to July 5, a day when dozens of media workers were attacked in anti-Pride violence.

“This is one system, how does it matter whether you appeal it or not,” Sanaia said on the question if he was going to challenge the first instance court’s decision.

The representatives of Sakhelashvili, one of the assailants, said on the other hand that they will be contesting the ruling in a higher instance. Gela Nikolaishvili, Sakhelashvili’s lawyer, said the judge “could not dare” to establish the innocence of the defendant amid the “fuss” over the case.

CSO’s see risks of growing aggression against critical media

Coalition for Media Advocacy, uniting over a dozen of Georgian CSOs, said about today’s ruling that justice in Sanaia’s case “has not been properly delivered,” adding that “the soft stance of the court towards the attack on the journalist and his family members poses another threat of growing aggression against critical media.”

The watchdogs said the authorities did not take “appropriate steps” to improve the media environment, and the state “does not protect lives and safety of media workers.”

“The ruling [Georgian Dream] party officials are in a state of political opposition with the critical media. They respond to journalists’ questions with hate speech, aggression, and boycott and incite further attacks on media,” the statement reads.

Sanaia and his relatives were assaulted on the night of February 24-25, in Tbilisi’s Vake district. The journalist 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. While the family was waiting for the emergency tow, one of the men, loitering nearby, allegedly recognized the journalist, approached him, and tried to provoke him.

Police arrested the three soon after the incident on charges of group violence committed against two or more individuals, foreseeing two-year imprisonment. The charges were later tightened to include Articles 151 and 156 of the Criminal Code, involving threats and persecution, respectively, and punished by imprisonment for a term of up to three years.

The attack was publicly condemned by top government officials, while opposition and civil society organizations saw the incident as a consequence of the government’s aggressive rhetoric targeting media workers.

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


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