Georgian prosecutors have charged three people for an attack on investigative television journalist Vakho Sanaia, who believes his assailants targeted him over his work.
The Interior Ministry said on February 26 that the suspects, who are said to have been drinking before the attack, were charged with violence committed by a group against two or more individuals.
Sanaia says he and a relative were returning from the airport in Tbilisi at night when they were approached by the three suspects in “an aggressive manner” after their car broke down.
“They were directly aggressive toward me as a representative of the media,” he said.
“They started provoking me, started swearing at us, at TV Pirveli, they were aggressive toward media in general,” he added, blaming general anti-media “propaganda” pushed by the ruling Georgia Dream party against outlets critical of the government.
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili condemned the attack saying “the response from the state will be adequate and the perpetrators will be held accountable with the full severity of the law.”
Georgia has been rocked by political turmoil in recent months amid repeated opposition claims that fall elections were rigged even though international observers said the October 31, 2020 vote, which triggered protests, was broadly free and fair.
The election campaign itself was marred by violent attacks against at least five journalists during clashes between pro-government and pro-opposition activists.
Opposition activists gathered on February 26 outside parliament demanding fresh elections and the release of all political prisoners, a reference to a raid on the headquarters of a major opposition party this week and the arrest of the party’s leader, Nika Melia.
Melia was arrested over allegations that he incited violence at protests nearly two years ago. He has dismissed the allegations as politically motivated.
International rights group Amnesty International called the heavy use of force to take Melia into custody before a court has heard his appeal against pretrial detention a troubling indicator.
The South Caucasus country is ranked 60th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 World Press Freedom Index.