Government-critical TV Pirveli cameraman Murman Zoidze was verbally and physically assaulted on June 19 allegedly for his activities as a media worker as he was recording a respondent in central Batumi, Georgia’s coastal city.
Zoidze was accompanied by his children at the time to film human rights activist Tsiala Katamidze when they were approached by several individuals who began verbally insulting the group.
Malkhaz Chkadua, Transparency International Georgia’s regional representative who was present at the site of the incident, told TV Pirveli that Zoidze was about to film when two young men emerged from the park and upon finding out which media outlet he worked for, began to verbally insult and then beat him.
“The two were immediately joined by more, perhaps 3-4,” Chkadua noted, adding that the assailants retreated to continue yelling insults once more bystanders appeared at the scene.
The Special Investigative Service of Georgia (SIS), tasked with probing crimes against journalists, announced yesterday that it had launched an investigation on the grounds of Article 154(2) of the Criminal Code which refers to unlawful interference with a journalist’s professional activities through the threat of violence.
The crime is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to two years, with a possible deprivation of the right to hold an official position or carry out a particular activity for up to three years.
The Media Advocacy Coalition, a group of press freedom watchers, urged the SIS to carry out a swift and effective investigation since “protracted investigative processes encourage new crimes against the media.”
The civil society group also reminded the authorities that “creating a secure media environment is a significant task in the course of European integration “
“The government must take even greater responsibility for the professional respect and public recognition of journalists. Members of the government need to reverse harmful practices established against journalists,” they added.
The attack comes against the backdrop of increased concerns about press freedoms in Georgia which have slipped since the homophobic pogroms of July 5, 2021, in which over 50 media workers covering counterdemonstration against LGBT Tbilisi Pride were brutally assaulted by far-right mobs.
The European Parliament recently passed a resolution on “violations of media freedom and safety of journalists in Georgia” which slammed the Georgian Dream authorities over their handling of press freedoms, coming as a major blow to Tbilisi ahead of EU candidacy bid.
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