The activists blocking entry to the automobile carrying Rustavi 2 TV host Giorgi Gabunia, March 19, 2018. Photo: screengrab from Rustavi 2
The rally of “the March of the Georgians,” an ultranationalist and ultraconservative movement, held outside the Rustavi 2 TV building on March 19, ended with the administrative detention of six protesters, and brief hospitalization of journalist Davit Eradze.
The demonstration followed the controversial remarks of TV host Giorgi Gabunia a day earlier. Speaking on ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s massive tree-replanting project in Adjara, Gabunia said “Jesus Christ made a big mistake when he chose Israel for preaching; he should have chosen to come to Adjara in about two-three years’ time – he would not be crucified then, since there would be no wood left in the region.”
Around two dozen activists of “the March of the Georgians,” gathered outside Rustavi 2 TV’s building at about 4 pm yesterday, and blocked entry to the automobile carrying TV host Giorgi Gabunia and lawyer Tamta Muradashvili, accusing the journalist of hurting their religious feelings, and demanding an apology from him.
“The March of the Georgians” activists were verbally insulting Gabunia for several minutes, and were threatening him with physical violence. The activists also confronted other journalists, inflicting a light injury to one of them, Davit Eradze.
The police officers, who arrived at the scene shortly after the rally began, arrested six protesters and launched investigation under articles 126 and 187 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, involving violence and property damage.
In a statement after the rally, Director of Rustavi 2 TV, Nika Gvaramia, apologized to “all those believers, whose feelings were unintentionally hurt,” adding that the channel’s Council of Ethics decided to reprimand the journalist.
Gvaramia, however, condemned the assault on journalists, and slammed “the March of the Georgians” as “a violent group financed from Russia.” He also said that the TV channel faced “risk of reprisals” from such groups, and urged the law enforcement agencies to ensure safety of the channel’s staff, as well as their journalistic freedom.
Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria condemned the assault as well, calling the incident “regretful and grave,” and pledging to follow the investigation closely.
Civil Society, Political Party Reactions
The incident was widely condemned by civil society organizations.
The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics issued a statement on March 19, assessing “the March of the Georgians” rally as interference with journalistic activities, and calling on the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office to promptly investigate the incident.
Similar points were raised by a group of four civil society organizations, including the Transparency International Georgia. “Freedom of expression and freedom of media are guaranteed by both the Georgian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights; the form of the protest should not go beyond the standards set by the law and should not include any form of violence,” their statement reads.
The Georgian Young Lawyers Association released a statement of its own, pointing out that the incident contained signs of criminal misconducts, including coercion, and interference with journalistic activities.
Opposition parties commented on the incident as well, with Zaal Udumashvili of the United National Movement denouncing the assault “as a well-planned and organized attack,” and MP Irma Nadirashvili of the European Georgia slamming “the March of the Georgians” activists as “representatives of the ugly Russian ideology.”