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Four Georgian TV stations off air for one day in silent protest

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Thursday, July 15
4 government-critical TV channels, Mtavari Arkhi, TV Pirveli, Formula, and Kavkasia went off the air at 07:00 on July 14 for 24 hours, silently protesting violence against journalists on July 5 at the Tbilisi Pride counter-rally, followed by the death of TV Pirveli cameraman Lekso Lashkarava on July 11. TV stations demand the resignation of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and the prosecution of the perpetrators of the July 5 mob violence. Regional TV channels also went off the air for 10 minutes on July 13 in protest and broadcasted a black screen with the text #forLekso.

The stations' broadcasts feature titles on a black backdrop detailing the names of the 53 journalists assaulted by far-right extremists, as well as the media outlets they work for and the locations where they were assaulted.

“For the first time in the history of Georgia, four televisions stopped broadcasting at the same time. We are trying to make our voice heard louder to the authorities through our silent protest", said founder and general director of TV Pirveli Vato Tsereteli, adding that a large rally is planned for Saturday on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi which will start at 6 p.m.

On July 11-12, 2 large rallies of media professionals, journalists, civic activists, opposition lawmakers, and people demanded the resignation of the government in response to Lashkarava's murder.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs claims that Lashkarava died of a drug overdose based on an initial chemical expert assessment, but his family, friends, and coworkers are skeptical of the forensic findings. They argue the authorities are seeking to discredit the murdered journalist, and they point out that Lashkarava was prescribed morphine for the extreme pain he was experiencing as a result of his injuries.

The 53 journalists were attacked by far-right extremists while covering a counter-rally to the July 5 Pride March, which was later postponed owing to an outbreak of homophobic violence and a lack of governmental security assurances.

As of July 14, 21 people have been detained on allegations of assault, persecution, and interfering with the professional duties of journalists. 5 of them were part of the Lashkarava assault.

Following the aforementioned events, the US Department of State has called on Georgian leaders on July 13 to publicly condemn recent violence against journalists and protect their right to freedom of the press.

After extending deepest condolences over the death of Lashkarava, Ned Price, Spokesperson of the Department of State called for calm and an end to the violence that has already caused one tragic loss of life. T

“The safety of every Georgian journalist and the credibility of democracy in Georgia requires that every individual who attacked peaceful protesters and journalists on July 5th and 6th or those who incited violence – they must be identified; arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” he said, reminding Georgia’s leaders and its law enforcement of their responsibility to protect all of those exercising their constitutional rights.

“We firmly oppose abuses against the LGBTQI+ community and, of course, in this case, the brutal violence against your former colleague, your now deceased colleague. When it comes to the prime minister and his future, that, of course, is a decision for the Georgian people.” Price announced.

Asked whether the U.S. is considering sanctions for Georgian officials Price said ‘we have a number of tools to hold accountable those responsible in some way for human rights abuses, for violence around the world. Sanctions are indeed one of those tools.

“As you know, we don’t preview sanctions before we enact them. But we are following the situation very closely, and we are committed to seeing that those responsible for this are held accountable,” StateDep spokesperson noted.