Screengrab from a video posted by UNM showing the opposition rally in support of Rustavi 2, February 10, 2017.
Hundreds of citizens took to the streets on February 10, in Tbilisi, calling for “fair” justice over the ongoing ownership dispute of Rustavi 2, one of the most watched TV channels in Georgia.
Activists of the United National Movement (UNM) marched to the Supreme Court building, asking fair and transparent court and waving placards in support of Rustavi 2.
Nika Melia, one of UNM’s leaders, said on February 8, without identifying sources, that the party had learnt that the Supreme Court would announce its decision over the court case before February 15 and that the ruling would not be in favor of current owners.
Melia added then that the party would organize a rally against the Government’s “interference” in the judiciary.
“When the country’s authorities are openly making corrupt deals with judges so that they issue the ruling against Rustavi 2, and … when they encourage silencing free word … there is only one solution: to begin loud protest through peaceful manifestations,” Melia told the protesters on February 10.
Giorgi Baramidze, another veteran UNM member, emphasized in his speech that this is a fight against “the oligarch,” referring to Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s former Prime Minister, who, in his words, “performs Putin’s plans in Georgia.”
Several small opposition groups joined the rally on Friday.
The leader of the “European Democrats of Georgia,” Paata Davitaia, stated that regular protests will continue for safeguarding Rustavi 2 and free speech.
“We managed to set up a coordinating council, which consists of eight political parties,” Davitaia said, referring to the agreement of opposition groups, including UNM, to coordinate activities in support of Rustavi 2 and the Public Broadcaster, the director general of which, has recently announced plans for suspending all TV and radio programming until 2018.
Zurab Kharatishvili of the Civil Alliance for Freedom emphasized that free speech needs to be protected.
“We see that there is pressure on Rustavi 2, as well as on the Public Broadcaster. [The Supreme Court as well] is under pressure … therefore, we believe that these institutions and these rights, particularly that of free speech, need to be protected. I believe that this is just the first step, which will continue until the government stops pressuring media,” he said.
About two dozens of Labor Party supporters held a separate demonstration in support of Rustavi 2 at the Supreme Court, where the protesters burned the photo of Bidzina Ivanishvili.
“We call on the judges not to follow Ivanishvili’s orders and not issue an unlawful decision. [We call on the judges] not to hand the free, objective channel to the criminal oligarch,” Labor Party’s Giorgi Gugava said.
Screengrab from Rustavi 2 showing Labor Party activists burning the photo of Bidzina Ivanishvili, February 10, 2017.
On February 10 as well, members of the Movement for Liberty - European Georgia, who broke away from UNM in January, put up a banner in support of free media during the plenary session at the Parliament of Georgia, in Kutaisi.
The banner, depicting logos of Rustavi 2 and the Public Broadcaster (GPB) with “No to Attack on Media” written on it, caused controversy in the Parliament and was taken down following pressure from the ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia MPs.
Screengrab from Rustavi 2 showing opposition lawmakers displaying a banner in support of Rustavi 2 and GPB, February 10, 2017.
Current owners of Rustavi 2 are locked in a court battle with its former co-owner Kibar Khalvashi, who tries to regain control over this Tbilisi-based opposition-minded television channel. The TV channel, which claims that former owner’s lawsuit to regain the broadcaster is orchestrated by the government with the aim to seize the channel, lost the battle in the court of first instance and also in the appellate court and took the case to the Supreme Court.