Four independent television stations in Georgia have suspended their broadcasts for 24 hours amid a wave of media protests against attacks on journalists by far-right crowds.
More than 50 journalists were beaten up last week, some with sticks, as they covered a protest against a Tbilisi pride parade, ultra-conservative politicians and priests urged supporters who raided offices pro-LGBTQ groups. Violence before the Pride event led organizers to cancel the parade.
The attacks have drawn attention to the powerful Georgian ultraconservative forces, which have shown their readiness to resort to violence to support nativist and intolerant policies and are seen as a potential sabotage of Georgia’s plans to forge ties. closer to the EU.
Following the attacks, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said the organizers of the pride parade were responsible for the violence, calling plans to hold the event “provocative and unacceptable”.
In response, journalists staged protests and called for Garibashvili’s resignation, calling him homophobic and claiming his government had failed to conduct an effective investigation.
Alexander Lashkarava was working as a cameraman for independent television station Pirveli during last week’s counter-demonstration when he was targeted and beaten by the angry mob, suffering a concussion and fractures to his face.
Less than a week later, his mother found him dead at home. Although the circumstances of Lashkarava’s death remain unclear, he had complained of severe pain as a result of the attack and had undergone surgery to repair the bones in his face.
An investigation has been opened to determine the cause of Lashkarava’s death, but during a press conference an official from the Georgian Interior Ministry suggested he may have died of a drug overdose. The statement was seen as an attempt to discredit Lashkarava.
On Tuesday, Lashkarava’s body was carried in an open coffin in a cemetery in Tbilisi, as hundreds of mourners marched alongside the bearers. Dozens of cameramen and women stopped to applaud as her body was carried through the streets.
On the same day, journalists interrupted a government press conference and demanded Garibashvili’s resignation, calling him “homophobic”.
“Excuse me, with all due respect, today our colleague Lekso Lashkarava will be buried and I think no one has the right to stand on this podium today”, said a journalist from Formula News , one of the protesting TV channels, as he interrupted a government spokeswoman on Tuesday.
He then called on other reporters and cameramen to join him at the podium, handing out photos of Lashkarava and other signs calling for an investigation into the attacks.
“Prime Minister Garibashvili must resign because he is the number one homophobe in our country,” said the journalist. “He is a violent prime minister and he must resign. “
They then left the conference.
Formula, TV Pirveli and two others, Mtavari and Kavkasia, announced on Wednesday that they would stop broadcasting for 24 hours in a coordinated act of protest.
“Irakli Garibashvili should resign! All abusers must be punished! read a statement issued by the four stations.
The attacks were the worst street violence seen in Tbilisi in years, reminiscent of a crowd led by priests who slaughtered gay rights protesters in 2013. The recent violence has also drawn international condemnation from foreign governments and rights groups.
“We are monitoring the situation very closely and we pledge that those responsible are held accountable,” said Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department, when asked this week about the violence.
When asked if Georgian officials could be punished for the attacks, he said the government could use sanctions to target human rights abusers around the world, but would not “preview” possible sanctions. .
“After the coordinated attack on more than 50 journalists, the suspicious death of Alexander Lashkarava marks a disastrous turning point for freedom to inform in Georgia,” said Jeanne Cavalier, press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
“Instead of trying to discredit the late cameraman, we demand that the Interior Ministry open a thorough, impartial and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his death and the attacks on journalists that the police did not protected.