Court Rules into Journalists vs. Interior Ministry Case
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 26 Dec.'11 / 18:59

The Tbilisi City Court has ordered the Interior Ministry to reimburse to a group of plaintiff journalists and media organizations total of about USD 1,370 mainly for lost or damaged camcorders during dispersal of anti-government protest rally on May 26, as well as for health treatment after being physically assaulted by the police during the same events.

Among the plaintiffs were three journalists, who have sustained physical injuries during the dispersal of the rally, involving two from a news website and a reporter for the Guria News newspaper. During the court hearings last month representatives from the Interior Ministry admitted responsibility for physical attacks on plaintiff journalists and said they would not dispute their demand for reimbursement of cost, which the plaintiffs paid for their treatment in medical centers with total amount of GEL 80 (less than USD 50).

Among the plaintiffs were also four media organizations, involving newspaper Batumelebi (which owns; a publisher of the Guria News newspaper; news agency InterPressNews and Palitra radio station (two latter outlets are part of the Palitra media holding). They were demanding reimbursement for lost and damaged equipment.

The court partially supported the plaintiffs demand in this part of the case ordering the Interior Ministry to reimburse for the InterPressNews’ lost one Flip camcorder in an amount of GEL 304; the news agency was demanding reimbursement for two lost Flip camcorders. Citing absence of sufficient evidence, the court denied radio Palitra’s request for reimbursement of a camcorder, but ruled positively in the newspaper Batumelebi’s claim for reimbursement for GEL 1,900 for damaged two camcorders. The court rejected the Guria News’ claims for reimbursement of lost equipment, citing insufficient evidence.

“The court’s ruling is important not because it involves pecuniary compensation, but because the precedent itself,” said Natia Kapanadze, a lawyer from the Tbilisi-based legal advocacy group Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), who represented the plaintiff journalists and media organizations.

The plaintiff journalists and media outlets have been calling on the law enforcement agencies to treat their case as obstruction to their journalistic work, which is punishable under the criminal code.

The Georgian Young Lawyers Association released on December 23 a 130-page report analyzing human rights violations during the violent dispersal of the anti-government protest rally on May 26. The report also includes chapters about the attacks on journalists and cases of seizure of cameras and recorded footage. According to the report it documented various incidents, including physical assault and illegal seizure of equipment, against twenty nine journalists.

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