U.S. Concerned as Media Attack Organizers Remain at Large

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan expressed today concerns that the organizers of July 5-6 attacks against media representatives in downtown Tbilisi have not been arrested.

“It is very good to see that individuals have been arrested, they have been investigated, but there needs to be thorough, impartial, professional investigations into these cases,” noted the U.S. Ambassador, adding that “what is concerning is that […] organizers of the attacks have not been arrested and since it is quite clear that these were organized targeted attacks […] it is important […] that the organizers be held to account.”

The U.S. diplomat said “all of the individuals and the organizers who were involved in this attack” against journalists and other citizens, “need to be investigated, they need to be prosecuted and where appropriate, they need to be convicted to the full extent of the law.”

Stressing that media freedom plays a central role in a healthy democratic system, Ambassador Degnan underlined that the attacks against Journalists on July 5-6 “were very concerning, especially because they were well-organized to target journalists and they were part of a pattern that we have been watching develop over the last year and a half.”

The U.S. Ambassador also said it was important for the authorities to send “a clear message that violence, hate speech, organized attacks against the media and other citizens, are not acceptable in Georgia, will not be tolerated and that there will be legal consequences to pursuing that.”

“There needs to be a very clear message to those organizing these attacks against journalists and against media freedom, that there are consequences and that this will not be tolerated, and it is not acceptable,” she added.

At least 53 journalists were attacked on July 5 by far-right homophobic mob that hit downtown Tbilisi streets to disrupt LGBT pride march. At least one more journalist was assaulted the following day. One of the beaten journalists, TV Pirveli cameraman Aleksandre Lashkarava passed away a few days after the attack in suspicious circumstances.

To date, police have arrested 25 persons over the attacks against journalists, including on charges of unlawful interference with the journalist’s professional activities under the threats of violence, persecution under violence, or threat of violence and group violence. No arrests have been made on charges of organizing violence.

Ned Price, spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State on July 13 floated the idea of sanctions over the human rights violations. Price said, “the safety of every Georgian journalist and the credibility of democracy in Georgia, in fact, require that every individual who attacked peaceful protesters and journalists on July 5th and 6th or those who incited violence – they must be identified; they should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

On July 16, police carried out searches in houses of key far-right figures that spearheaded the July 5-6 homophobic rallies and took them for questioning, albeit none of the alleged organizers have been arrested so far. 

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili claimed on July 24 that the authorities have “arrested all aggressors.”

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