Commenting on series of attacks on offices of opposition UNM party last week, PM Irakli Garibashvili called on Wednesday for “holding back emotions” and keeping “calm”.
A week ago he said that UNM is a “criminal organization”, which has “no right to remain in politics” and “aggression” against the party is “natural” after 2011 videos of sexual abuse of detainees by law enforcement officers were leaked in public domain. Remarks, which came following attacks on UNM offices by pro-government groups in up to twenty locations across the country last week, were condemned by the opposition and civil society groups as “violence-inciting” and “aggressive rhetoric.” Ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili said on October 24 that he too “disliked” Garibashvili’s remarks, describing them as “excessively emotional”.
Speaking at a government session on October 28, the PM said: “Of course those videos cause outrage… but I want to appeal to the public and request to maximally maintain calm. Securing stability is in our interest, therefore I ask you to hold back emotions; I call on everyone for calm.”
“Our state is now stronger than it was three years ago, we will not allow any kind of provocation, but I call for maximum restraint and request the youths, involved in protests following the release of those videos, to show restraint and keep calm,” the PM said.
He then asked Interior Minister Giorgi Mgebrishvili if the investigation was underway “in connection to raids on offices” of UNM. The Interior Minister responded: “Not a single case was left without our reaction.”
The Interior Minister said that probe was launched under the code of administrative offenses in connection to 22 cases related to incidents at UNM offices and three people were detained, who were then released after being fined. The Interior Minister also said that criminal investigation was ongoing into three cases.
At the same government session the PM also spoke about Rustavi 2 TV case and again denied allegations that the government is trying to take over the broadcaster through Kibar Khalvashi, a former owner of the Rustavi 2 TV, whose lawsuit to reclaim shares in the television station is now being adjudicated in the Tbilisi City Court.
“Of course I would not share criticism or notion that the government is somehow involved in the process related to Rustavi 2 TV,” Garibashvili said.
He said that it would be irrational for the government to do it. “It is possible to open a new television channel within 10 days… without any barriers,” the PM said.
“So neither Rustavi 2 TV nor UNM and anyone else within the country and outside should worry that we will create any kind of barriers to any television channel or that we will harm media environment,” Garibashvili said.
“Not a single normal, sensible person would see any rational basis for our government to have a desire [to take over Rustavi 2] in the condition when we simplified to such extent procedures for opening a television channel… If we assume theoretically that someone in our government wants to seize or shut down Rustavi 2, what’s the point in such move? ‘Rustavi 5’ can be simply opened tomorrow,” he said, suggesting that even if Rustavi 2 TV ownership is changed, the current owners can open a new TV channel under a similar name.
“We will help them, because it is in our interests to have as many television stations as possible,” he said.
“I want to state it firmly on behalf of our government, that we will do everything in order not to ever restrict functioning of media outlets… regardless of whether we agree or not, whether we like or not biased coverage by the television stations,” the PM said.
He said that for past three years, before going to court, Khalvashi, who now tries to reclaim Rustavi 2 TV, was “trying in vain to find justice and to restore his rights” by filing application to the prosecutor’s office demanding investigation into his claims that he was coerced into selling of the broadcaster in 2006 by then leadership of the country. Garibashvili said that the prosecutor’s office deliberately refused to investigate because the government has never wanted to interfere in “sensitive” cases related to media.
“I cannot accept criticism towards our government that we are involved in Rustavi 2 TV court proceedings. The court should be able to take impartial decision independently and everyone should obey this decision whether we like it or not,” he said.
“I want to call on everyone – politicians, president, government, parliament – to keep correctness in respect of the judiciary… Making calls in address of a judge about what kind of decision to take is inadmissible, that’s not our business,” the PM said.
He also said that the government “appreciates” statements made by Georgia’s western partners. “It is interesting for us to hear healthy criticism, but not undeserved criticism,” the PM said.
“We cannot accept undeserved criticism neither from our friends and partners nor especially from enemies. We are committed to improving what we have already achieved over the past three years, but it has to be appreciated and properly assessed,” Garibashvili said.