OSCE 'concerned' by Georgia journo attacks

July 19, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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VIENNA, July 19 (UPI) -- "Repeated occurrences" of violence against reporters in Georgia has drawn the condemnation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media, this week in Vienna expressed "concern" over what she called "repeated occurrences of violence against journalists in Georgia in recent weeks."

"Journalists should be able to work unhindered, regardless of the political affiliation of the media outlets they represent," Mijatovic said, calling on Georgian prosecutors to investigate the cases thoroughly.

"It is the responsibility of the authorities to ensure that media workers can perform their professional duties without fear of violence or any other form of obstruction," Mijatovic said.

Of the 12 people injured during a July 12 clash between supporters of the government and backers of the opposition Georgian Dream coalition in the Shida Qartli region of central Georgia, 10 were journalists, the OSCE said.

The Civil Georgia news Web site reported the victims included journalists from Channel 9 and its news agency Info-9 -- owned by Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili -- as well as reporters from Trialeti TV, in which Channel 9 owns shares, and the news agency Shida Kartli Information Center.

The clashes came as Georgian Dream and its billionaire philanthropist leader are campaigning in the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Mijatovic noted a similar incident involving Info-9 and Channel 9 crews was reported June 26 in the village of Mereti.

In that episode, a fistfight erupted in the village of Mereti -- also in Shida Kartli region, close to the administrative border with breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. Ivanishvili was holding a campaign meeting with local activists in the village at the time, Civil Georgia reported.

Four people, including two Georgian Dream activists, were arrested and jailed for 10 days in connection with the fight, the Web site said.

Six people arrested in connection with the Karaleti assaults were given 15-day jail sentences. That includes one person charged with assaulting a journalist.

Mijatovic noted she complained to the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili in May about the mistreatment of journalists, saying, "I am concerned by these incidents and I hope authorities will do their utmost to reverse this worrying trend."

The Georgian Dream coalition alleged the incidents were provoked by the government and demanded that Georgian authorities "immediately eradicate such incidents in order to prevent the process once again going beyond constitutional limits and growing into civil confrontation."

The OSCE, which has been invited to observe the October parliamentary elections, criticized 2010 local municipal elections, which it said included ballot box-stuffing and irregularities in vote-counting.

Saakashvili in June vowed the parliamentary elections will be clean and said all Georgian officials must make sure they are "truly exemplary," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

The Georgian leader promised to "ensure that all political forces have equal opportunities and that the entire electoral process is carried out in open, public debates" and asserted "any attempts at ballot-rigging and bribery will be punished with the full force of the law."

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