In a joint statement the U.S. embassy and diplomatic missions of the EU-member states in Tbilisi expressed “concern” over the appointment of a temporary management in Rustavi 2 TV and said that this decision by the court on November 5 raises “serious questions about the independence of the judiciary” and “actual degree of freedom of the media” in Georgia.
“In light of the recent interim decision of the Constitutional Court and considering that the substantial judgment of the first instance court in the Rustavi 2 case does not envisage immediate enforcement, the preventive measures adopted on 5 November raise serious questions about the independence of the judiciary and the actual degree of freedom of the media in Georgia,” reads the statement.
“As our respective Missions have publicly stated many times, freedom of media and independence of the judiciary are essential foundations of a democracy, and diverse opinions should be encouraged in democratic societies.”
“We call on all political actors to refrain from any step or statement that could prevent the Georgian judiciary from ruling dispassionately on this case.”
“The government and judicial institutions need to uphold the principles of media freedom and political pluralism that are an integral part of Georgia’s declared aspirations.”
“We will continue to monitor developments closely and raise concerns with all relevant parties as appropriate,” reads the statement made jointly by the U.S. embassy and the Delegation of the EU in Georgia in agreement with the heads of missions of the EU member states in Tbilisi.
This joint statement comes hours after U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Ian Kelly, released written statement earlier on November 6 saying that the Embassy is “deeply concerned about developments late Thursday night related to Rustavi 2 management and ownership.” News about court’s decision to replace management of the broadcaster broke before midnight on Thursday.
“Attempts to change the management of the station, in advance of the appeal process, have profound political implications,” Ambassador Kelly said.
The U.S. ambassador’s statement drew criticism from some senior figures from the Georgian Dream (GD) ruling coalition.
“I cannot really welcome Mr. Kelly’s statement,” said leader of the GD parliamentary majority group MP Zviad Kvatchantiradze.
“We, neither lawmakers nor executive government members, are involved in the processes surrounding Rustavi 2,” MP Kvatchantiradze said. “I reiterate my deep respect for Mr Ambassador and I would like him to have more contacts with representatives from [the GD parliamentary] majority… I know he is active in having meetings with representatives from the [UNM] parliamentary minority group and parliamentary opposition [referring to Free Democrats], but if he showed more interest in having more active contacts with us [GD MPs], he would have received more comprehensive answers about our position.”
An outspoken lawmaker from GD, Tamaz Mechiauri, who chairs parliamentary committee for budget and finances, described the U.S. ambassador’s statement as meddling in Georgia’s internal affairs and said that he should “apologize”.
“Even the U.S. Ambassador has no right to interfere so sharply in the affairs of a sovereign country,” MP Mechiauri said. “Even friendship has some limits, which should not be crossed.”
“I want to ask the U.S Embassy in a friendly manner to explain what does the ‘developments happening by night’ mean,” Tsulukiani said and added that the Justice Ministry’s public registry received application on court’s decision on change of management in Rustavi 2 TV at about 6pm on November 5 and uploaded it on its website shortly after that; she also said that the public registry registered the application next morning, on November 6.
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović also expressed concern on November 6 over court’s decision to replace management in the Rustavi 2 TV, saying that it threatens the independence of a major media outlet’s editorial policy.
The co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of Georgia, Boriss Cilevics and Kerstin Lundgren also expressed “deep concern” and said that the court decision on change of management “in effect allows for a change of editorial policy at Rustavi 2, while the appeals process is on-going.”
“Moreover, this decision by the Tbilisi court seems to contradict, at least in spirit, the decision by the Constitutional Court to suspend immediate enforcement of court verdicts in civilian cases while the appeals process is going on. We are deeply concerned by the implications of this decision, and the questions that are raised about the judicial process as a result of it,” they said.