Grigolia’s started the hour and a half-long interview by recalling her experience on November 7, when police raided the Imedi studios.
“My colleagues and I could never have imagined that special purpose units would burst into the studio, forcing my colleagues down on the ground at gun point like criminals,” Grigolia told the president. “Then they seized our mobile phones and released us. Then, outside the premises, we were again attacked... We were running and servicemen from the special purpose units were chasing us, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas. All this has happened to us. Why?”
Saakashvili responded that he was “really sorry” if any law enforcement officer had used excessive force. But he also added that the police officers were performing their duties under “an extremely strained, extremely difficult and extremely dangerous situation.”
“If it is confirmed that any of them [law enforcement officers] acted inappropriately, of course there will be an appropriate response from the Georgian authorities,” Saakashvili said. “We can look into the details and see if there was an excessive use of force. It was not really pleasant for me what happened and it was very hard to see and listen to what happened.”
He then, however, justified the authorities’ actions in relation to Imedi TV, saying that the country had faced an imminent and real threat of chaos. Saakashvili said that the country was on the verge of “catastrophe” on November 7 and one of the reasons for this was Imedi TV – which he described as “a lie machine” – and its co-owner, Patarkatsishvili.
“Hysteria was triggered and there was a direct call to overthrow the government by the co-owner of this TV company, Badri Patarkatsishvili,” he said. “And at that very time you [referring to the journalist] are speaking about, our holy place, the Trinity Cathedral, faced the threat of becoming a hostage of Patarkatsishvili’s dirty games.”
He was referring to a news report by an Imedi TV journalist made before the station was raided by police. The journalist, speaking in a live broadcast from the yard of the Trinity Cathedral on November 7 after riot police had dispersed protesters gathered at Rike, said: “Some people say they have seen riot policemen coming towards the Trinity Cathedral.”
Saakashvili said that the report was “deliberately” aimed at inciting more unrest, as it was, he said, obviously playing on the feelings of many Georgians for whom the Georgian Orthodox Church is a very important institution.
The report was subsequently cited by the Georgian Telecommunications Regulatory Commission in its decision to suspend the TV station’s broadcast license for three months.
Saakashvili said that reporting “rumors, suggesting that the Trinity Cathedral, one of the holiest places for Georgians, was under attack”, was a provocation.
“So under these circumstances the government realized the threat we were facing,” he said. “It was not my unilateral decision; it was a decision made collectively – I am not abdicating my share of responsibility, but many people together took this decision and we acted like any responsible government would have acted. And this is how any government should act.”
He also said that Imedi TV had “unfortunately, turned into a weapon in the hands of a person with wicked intentions in respect of Georgia.” He was referring to Patarkatsishvili.
“You asked when it [Imedi TV] would resume broadcasting,” Saakashvili said. “As soon as we see that there is no longer a threat that Patarkatsishvili will try to overthrow the government with his dirty machinations. When there is a legal framework and guarantee that it will not happen, we will of course restore [Imedi TV’s broadcast license].”
When towards the end of the interview the journalist asked once again if Imedi TV would be allowed to resume broadcasting, Saakashvili responded:
“We will act within the framework of the Georgian law, within the framework of international law, with Georgia’s interests in mind and we will do that regardless of whether someone likes it or not. We will resolve all the issues, if there are guarantees that there will be no violence, unrest. But it will not happen if there are attempts [to forment] violence and attempts to turn it [Imedi TV] into a weapon in the hands of this person [Patarkatsishvili], who is an enemy of Georgia’s. I want to find a solution and I want to find a solution soon that benefits society and Georgian democracy... I am a son of democracy, I came to power through democratic debates and I am going to continue to govern this country through democratic methods. It means transparency, total freedom of the media.”
Saakashvili also leveled new accusations against Imedi TV and said that the company and the firm in charge of its security were engaged in the illegal gathering of “compromising material” on individuals, who he did not name.
He did give further details, but said that “all this information will become public; all this information will be unveiled, some of it after the elections.”
The General Prosecutor’s Office has already charged the head of two security firms with links to Patarkatsishvili with attempting to set up “an illegal armed group.” The firms were also responsible for security at the Imedi TV studios.