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Tumultuous Runoffs: Journalists Under Attack

Over a dozen journalists, covering the bitterly-contested second rounds of the local elections today, have been attacked across Georgia by unidentified persons and allegedly ruling party activists and coordinators.

Journalist crews from the government-critical TV networks – TV Pirveli and Formula – were among those most frequently reported as victims as they tried to document possible violations in and around polling stations.

Formula TV journalist Davit Mania was physically pushed and verbally assaulted, allegedly by Georgian Dream party coordinators, in Zugdidi town as he tried to ask questions about the lists suspected to be for tracking voters.

Video footages showed unidentified men hanging around the polling stations being particularly aggressive towards the journalists. Several persons bawled insults and expletives at Formula TV’s crew in Kutaisi and Gonio. In Gonio, a man is also seen in the footage as pulling reporter’s hair.

Nino Chakvetadze, another Formula TV correspondent, was attacked in Martvili, Samegrelo region. Two different persons struck her phone, used by the journalist to report from outside a polling station.

Formula TV crew was also attacked in one of the villages of Imereti region by a woman, who verbally confronted and threw stones at the journalists and pushed away the camera when asked questions about suspicious lists she was holding.

TV Pirveli crew was verbally attacked and physically forced away allegedly by a GD-linked observer as they reported from a polling station. In another instance, a woman identified by media as precinct election commission chair hurled insults at another TV Pirverli reporter at the polling station, also slightly pushing her and touching the camera to turn it away.

TV Pirveli reporter Nanuka Kajaia was verbally abused by a group of men in Tbilisi as she was inquiring about the suspicious assembly near the polling station. An unidentified man showed middle finger and used swearing words against another TV Pirveli journalist as she was reporting from outside one of the precincts in southern town of Rustavi.

Journalists from an online media outlet On.ge, as well as smaller networks like TV 25 and TV Media Center reportedly also came under attack.

Another incident was reported by police, which said that a member of the United National Movement, the largest opposition party physically assaulted a journalist from the TV Monitoring at one of the polling stations in Kareli, east-central municipality. 

Media Advocacy Coalition, uniting over a dozen CSOs, has called on the Georgian Dream representatives to “cease verbal attacks and encouraging aggression against journalists.” The group also addressed the Interior Ministry to probe into the instances of interference with the duties of journalists.

The Georgian Young Lawyers Association, key election watchdog, noted the continued trend of pressuring and interfering with work of journalists. “In several cases, journalists were verbally and physically assaulted during reporting and prevented from freely performing their professional duties,” GYLA said.

Earlier today, Kakha Kaladze, the ruling Georgian Dream’s Tbilisi Mayoral candidate spoke of “attempts to strain the situation in certain cities.” “Unfortunately, these attempts are mainly coming from certain media outlets.”

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