The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has temporarily suspended the enforcement of the Georgian Supreme Court's March 2 decision to reinstate a former shareholder of opposition-backing Rustavi 2 television channel as the sole owner of the broadcaster.
Rustavi 2 is the country's most watched channel and is markedly opposed to the government, having historically favoured the leading opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM). Over the past year and a half, its current owners, brothers Giorgi and Levan Karamanishvili, who are close associates of UNM founder and former President Mikheil Saakashvili, have been battling former shareholder Kibar Khalvashi over the ownership of the channel.
On March 2, the Supreme Court overrode a previous decision taken by two Georgian courts and granted Khalvashi sole ownership of the broadcaster. The businessman sold his shares in Rustavi 2 in 2006, but sued the current owners over how the sale was handled.
In its March 3 ruling, the ECHR said that it was suspending the enforcement of the Supreme Court decision until March 8, advising the Georgian "authorities" to abstain from interfering in the broadcaster's editorial policy until then. The ECHR can issue temporary suspensions of Supreme Court verdicts, as in this case, in countries that are signatories of the European Convention of Human Rights, but only in exceptional cases.
The broadcaster applied to the ECHR for a suspension of the verdict, and was the first media outlet to publicise the European institution's decision. Georgian Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said that the government would "follow the procedures" set out by "Strasbourg".
In a statement issued on March 3, the Georgian chapter of Transparency International voiced concerns over the speed with which the Georgian Supreme Court reached its decision in a case that was deemed to be "exceptionally difficult".
The case has already attracted international criticism, as it is believed to represent a government attempt to silence critical media by manipulating the judiciary. Rallies in support of Rustavi 2 are expected to take place in the coming days and weeks.
Meanwhile, the new owner has, in several statements to the media since March 3, sought to reassure Rustavi 2 employees that they would get to keep their jobs, and that he would even consider selling the broadcaster.