Head of the Rustavi 2 TV, Nika Gvaramia, claimed on Wednesday that he received a threat from the government to leak a video of his personal life if he refuses to “step aside” from the television station, the most watched Georgian broadcaster, which is in a court battle over ownership dispute.
Speaking in a live broadcast from Rustavi 2 TV studio on Wednesday evening, Gvaramia said that he was told by a person who acts as a go-between for him and government that court verdict is expected on October 22, which will order handing over broadcaster from its current owners to one of its former owners, Kibar Khalvashi.
Khalvashi, who co-owned Rustavi 2 TV in 2004-2006, filed a lawsuit in August claiming that he was forced to give up his shares in the broadcaster about nine years ago and who now wants to reclaim his shares in Rustavi 2 TV. Rustavi 2 TV claims that Khalvashi is in fact acting on behalf of the government and upon instructions of the former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, who wants to take over the most popular and opposition-minded television channel.
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Gvaramia alleged that the government conveyed a message to him according to which he should not resist enforcement of the imminent court verdict, which will be against of current owners of the Rustavi 2 TV. Gvaramia said he is not going to obey “illegal” court verdict and will resist change of ownership and current editorial policy of the broadcaster.
“The things are developing in a way that leaves no space for free media in this country,” Gvaramia said in his televised statement during a meeting with representatives of political opposition, civil society organizations and Tbilisi-based foreign diplomatic mission.
“Today I had a conversation with a person, who usually conveys to me messages from the government, and I want to tell you here publicly about the content of this conversation,” Gvaramia said.
“I learned from this conversation that tomorrow the court will deliver a verdict, which will give ownership of the [Rustavi 2 TV] company to Kibar Khalvashi; this verdict will either on the same day or next day will be followed by a decision on an immediate enforcement of the verdict and there was a demand towards me to step aside,” he said.
“Of course I responded that I am never going to do that. In response I was told that I should not forget that my family members live here as I could not send them to the United States; I was told that I should not forget that there are certain relationships, which are recorded on video and it will be released publicly, that I should not forget that I have negotiations via phone with some people, including [former President] Mikheil Saakashvili, and these recordings will also be released and I will be personally destroyed in the eyes of my colleagues and the country,” said Gvaramia, who held senior government posts when Saakashvili was the President.
“The best way to confront blackmail is to speak out about it. Secondly, much more important value is now at stake now then my personal comfort – the future of the country and its democracy is at stake,” he said.
“I am telling the authorities: upload whatever [video] you want. I don’t care at all. My personal life is mine and it concerns no one else,” he said.
Gvaramia declined to name a person who conveyed the message; he said that the meeting took place in the Rustavi 2 TV headquarters, but he had no evidence to substantiate his allegation.
“I am stating it openly that we will not let anyone to take over Rustavi 2 because tomorrow’s verdict is a priori illegal and we are not going to enforce it,” Gvaramia said. “If there is an attempt to forcibly break into the television station, we will defend ourselves likewise with force. We are not going to give up the television station, freedom of speech and country’s democratic perspective.”
He then addressing foreign diplomats and complained that they were not straightforward enough in voicing protest over Rustavi 2 TV developments.
“It is obvious for everyone what is going on in this country, but regrettably you voice is not loud enough,” he told diplomats.
“All talks of democracy development, its future perspective, all those unclear visa liberalisation or some kind of other regimes is hypocrisy from your part. Democracy of this country is in its deepest crisis and if the international community does not pay attention to this and if it does not speak out loudly about it, Georgia will be lost for the European and Euro-Atlantic space,” Gvaramia said and added that government’s scenario of taking over Rustavi 2 TV is replicating the one that Russia’s Vladimir Putin employed during his early years of presidency against Russian television stations.
“[Ex-PM]Bidzina Ivanishvili’s role model is Vladimir Putin and therefore everything happens here like it was happening in Russia and everything will end up here just like it was in Russia and you will get Russia’s new satellite from this country,” Gvaramia told diplomats.
Addressing political parties, Gvaramia said that they should understand “there will be no free elections without Rustavi 2 TV.”
He also called on the viewers to rally outside the Tbilisi City Court building in support of Rustavi 2 TV on October 22, when the court hearing is expected to continue.