Critical TV director jailed in Georgia

Critical TV director jailed in Georgia
Rustavi-2 is regarded as close to the main opposition party, the UNM of jailed former premier Mikheil Saakashvili.
By Javid Agha in Baku May 17, 2022

The Tbilisi City Court found Nika Gvaramia, Director General of Mtavari Arkhi TV, guilty of causing damage to Rustavi-2 TV company while serving as director and sentenced him to three years and six months in prison on May 16.

Gvaramia denied all the accusations and said they were politically motivated. “I am an innocent person, what will the criminal regime do, what can I say now?” he told reporters before the judge delivered the verdict. “My arrest will be, in a sense, a step towards Russia. If there is an argument in favour of the arrest, it is that the road to Russia would be further shortened, ” he told Formula TV yesterday.

Rustavi 2, a free-to-air TV channel, is regarded as close to the main opposition party, the UNM of jailed former premier Mikheil Saakashvili.

Gvaramia, who was indicted by the prosecutor's office shortly after being fired from Rustavi 2 in 2019, was found guilty on two counts by the court. The first was for an advertising contract concluded with the Porsche Centre in February 2019, for which, according to the prosecutor's office, Gvaramia and his family received an expensive car (worth 76,700)  in return for reducing Rustavi 2 ad placement prices in 2015.

The second count concerns Gvaramia’s alleged abuse of power in 2015, when, according to the prosecutor’s office, Rustavi 2 TV company suffered a loss of GEL6.76mn ($2.2mn) due to an advertising contract with Inter Media Plus. For this reason, the judge fined Gvaramia GEL50,000 (€16,000), although, under Article 59 of the Criminal Code, the heavier penalty swallowed up the punishment for the lesser crime.

The court acquitted  Gvaramia under articles 221 (3), 194 (3, "c") and 362 (2, "b") of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which deal with commercial bribery, money laundering and the manufacture, sale or use of a forged document, seal, stamp or letterhead.

Gvaramia's lawyer Dmitry Sadzaglishvili said that the defence will appeal the court's decision to a higher authority. “We saw a very clear choice made today by the authorities in favour of Russia,” he told reporters today. “In Western democracies, critical media directors are not arrested or prosecuted for dissent,” he added.

Gvaramia's arrest came amid growing concerns about press freedom, the independence of the judiciary, and alleged political persecution in the country. Commenting on the sentence, the US Embassy in Georgia released a statement saying that it "casts doubt on Georgia's commitment to the rule of law and highlights the fundamental importance of an independent and impartial judiciary in Georgia". According to the embassy, ​​"the worrying practice of selective investigations and prosecutions" of opposition figures "undermines the public's confidence in the police, prosecutors, courts and the government itself".

“The court fulfilled a political order by punishing the head of critical television, Nika Gvaramia,” the non-governmental organization Transparency International Georgia said after the court's decision. “Based on the study of the case materials and observation of the process, it can be concluded that the case is politically motivated, the purpose of which is to punish Nika Gvaramia and hinder the activities of a critical television company,” the organisation said in a statement.