'We won't tolerate authoritarianism' – TV Pirveli responds to court's permission for seizure of wiretap convo
Attack on the Pirveli TV channel in Georgia, detailed analysis of the case
Opposition TV channel Pirveli in Georgia announced that it is switching to ’emergency mode’ after a court ruled on March 11 allowing police to force their way into the channel’s premises.
Ombudsman of Georgia Nino Lomjaria called this decision “a tough precedent” that could restrict freedom of speech in the country. The opposition said that “the ruling regime has launched a punitive operation.”
On March 11, Tbilisi City Court ruled that the security forces could enter the building of the opposition television channel Pirveli in order to seize materials necessary to investigate an illegal wiretapping case, with the use of force ‘if necessary.’
The recording in question is allegedly of a conversation of Bera Ivanishvili (the son of billionaire and shadow ruler of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili), the Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili and the head of the State Security Service Anzor Chubinidze, published by the TV channel. In the recording, they discuss in harsh and obscene terms the intimidation of a 15-year-old schoolboy for criticizing Bera Ivanishvili on social media.
- Wiretap of convo between Ivanishvili’s son, new Georgian PM gives rise to scandal
- ‘I’ll demand an answer for insults’ – Georgian oligarch’s son admits wiretapped convo authentic
Three days after the release of the recording, Bera Ivanishvili practically confirmed the authenticity of the recording and its content and said that “he will not forgive anyone who insults [my] mother.”
The court’s decision says that the prosecutor’s office intends to confiscate from TV Pirveli electronic media containing recordings of the personal conversations that were aired on TV.
Legal experts say that the court’s decision mentions the possibility of a criminal offense having been committed against the minors in question. However, the prosecutor’s office launched an investigation only under the article “Unauthorized recording of a private conversation.”
The prosecutor’s office was not interested in the content of the telephone conversation.
Prosecutors backed down after violent public reaction
After a harsh reaction from the TV channel and an explosion of indignation in society, the prosecutor’s office issued a statement in which it recognized the channel’s right not to hand over “an object, document or other object,” although it was requested in court.
At the same time, it was suggested that Pirveli could cooperate with the investigation and voluntarily transfer materials.
The head of the public relations department of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Baya Tsanava, said that “the information about the planned seizure of the TV channel is a lie.”
What will the TV channel do?
The leadership of Pirveli claims that the court’s decision gave the prosecutor’s office the “green light” to forcefully break into the premises of the TV company to seize materials.
The channel’s journalists confidently state that the prosecutor’s office is not actually looking for records:
“They want to get exactly electronic information carriers in order to find traces of DNA on them and to establish who exactly transmitted the materials to the TV channel.”
Lawyer of the TV channel Giorgi Mshvenieradze said that he intends to appeal the court decision as “unconstitutional”. He believes that until the court’s decision is canceled, the prosecutor’s office can invade television at any time.
Director of the TV channel Vato Tsereteli appealed to the diplomatic corps with an appeal to “help stop this hysteria” and protect freedom of the media.
“This is a threat to all independent media in Georgia”
“This is a dangerous sign of authoritarianism, which we will not tolerate in Georgian society,” reads the joint statement signed by more than 20 opposition parties.
“Pirveli TV channel and its source uncovered a grave crime, violence, behind which high-ranking officials stand. In a democratic society, it is at such moments that the investigation of such crimes begins. But the ruling regime in Georgia wants to punish everyone who bothers Ivanishvili or his family, and this is a big threat to the democratic choice of the Georgian people,” the statement said.
Signatory opposition parties received a total of 52 percent of the vote in the October 31, 2020 elections, four percent more than the result of the ruling Georgian Dream party. However, the entire opposition declared the elections rigged, almost all of its representatives refused to work in parliament and demanded new elections.
The Public Defender called the court’s decision “unfounded” and “incompatible with the legislation of Georgia and European legislation on human rights.”
Nino Lomjaria said that “the decision of the Tbilisi City Court is a serious precedent, the implementation of which could seriously hinder the free work of journalists.” She urged the prosecutor’s office not to take steps that would undermine freedom of speech in Georgia.