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Amnesty International says Tskhinvali leadership suppresses freedom of expression

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, August 23
Amnesty International reports that the defamation charges brought against a critical social media blogger by the South Ossetian authorities constitute a blatant violation of freedom of expression.

Tamar Mearakishvili was detained on 16 August and charged for defaming the de-facto ruling party of South Ossetia, “United Ossetia”.

The authorities referred to her comments for Ekho Kavkaza, an online publication of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The article published on 26 April featured Tamar Mearakishvili’s criticism of the arbitrariness of United Ossetia party representatives in her town of Akhalgori, namely, she described how the party representatives harassed doctors at a local hospital and tried to extort free medical supplies.

Mearakishvili told Amnesty International that while she was detained, she was denied a lawyer and an interpreter and her personal belongings were confiscated.

“She was released the same day, apparently as the result of an outcry by local activists and international organizations. However, the charge of criminal defamation is still pending and she is due to be summoned to the investigation office in the upcoming days,” Amnesty International reports.

Tamar’s house was also searched on 16 August.

Mearakishvili is an active social media blogger in the small town of Akhalgori in Georgia’s disputed region of South Ossetia.

She has been outspoken on various social and economic problems that her community is facing. On July 31, Tamar Mearakishvili received a letter from the local prosecutor’s office informing her that an investigation was being launched in relation to defamation charges brought against her by a member of United Ossetia.

Mearakishvili has often been harassed due to her social media activism. Before her recent detention, she had been summoned to the Prosecutor’s Office six times since 2008 and threatened because of her critical comments on social media and in news outlets.

“The defamation charge against Tamar Mearakishvili must be dropped, and her harassment because of her criticism of the de facto authorities must end. Defamation, if proven, should only be treated as a matter for civil litigation by the injured party,” Amnesty International says.

Georgian officials have already revealed their support to Mearakishvili and vowed to support her as much as possible while taking the current situation into account. This week civil society representatives also backed the journalist releasing a joint statement.