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Over 50 media workers injured amid far-right violence in Tbilisi

A dark moment for press freedom in the country

 

On July 5th many journalists and media workers were assaulted while covering far-right protests hours before the planned Tbilisi Pride march. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 55 persons were injured – among them 53 media workers. 

Protesters stormed the offices of Tbilisi Pride and of The Shame Movement, a liberal activist group. In the aftermath, Tbilisi Pride organizers decided to cancel the march. 

Direct responsibility for the violence falls on ultraconservative groups, including Alt Info and Georgian March. These groups are explicitly hostile towards liberal opposition media in Georgia. But both the government and Orthodox Church share the blame, creating an atmosphere that is hostile to LGBT activists and liberal media.

Prior to the march, several government authorities shifted responsibility to pride organizers, deeming the march an “unreasonable” idea. (They also blame the opposition and former president for being behind the Pride). Moreover, unlike during previous protests which saw a heavy police presence, this time security forces were largely absent.

At the same time, the government, pro-government media and the Orthodox Church regularly condemn the liberal pro-European opposition outlets including Mtavari Arkhi, TV Pirveli and Formula.

The Orthodox Church, one of the most trusted institutions in the country, unsurprisingly opposed the Pride March. The patriarchate criticized the march on the basis of moral and puritanical arguments. Pride organizers were blamed for acting against the will of the Georgian people. Some clerics joined the assault against the Pride organizers.

Earlier during the day, protesters dismantled tents outside of the Parliament building which belonged to anti-government campaigns and the opposition UNM party. They also removed the EU flag. 

While the scale is unprecedented, this is not the first case of journalists facing threats or violence. Three men assaulted and threatened to kill Vakhtang Sanaia, an anchor at the local TV broadcaster Formula in February.

Georgia has the highest level of freedom in the Caucasus region. According to Reporters Without Borders, the media sector is pluralistic, but also deeply polarized. State agency interference in the activities of media outlets is a major issue. It is expected that the Pride Week events will further deepen both political and media polarization in the country. 


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Photo by daniel james on Unsplash

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