March 3, 2017/ By Georgia Today
TBILISI – Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court of Georgia, which is tasked to solve the most complex cases, made the final decision over the high-profile Rustavi 2 TV dispute, granting the assets of the broadcaster to its former owner, Kibar Khalvashi.
Khalvashi was a co-owner of Rustavi 2 from 2004 to 2006. He filed a lawsuit in August 2015 to reclaim his shares saying he was illegally deprived of his company under the previous United National Movement (UNM) government.
The case was handed to the Grand Chamber on November 21, 2016. On March 2, 2017, the Chamber, which consists of nine judges, including the Chair of the Supreme Court, ruled out that 60 percent of Rustavi 2 TV shares to be given to Khalvashi and the rest 40 percent to Panorama LTD, which is a company owned by him.
The Chamber made the decision on the background of protest rallies, organized by Rustavi 2 and its supporter opposition parties, who demanded “a fair decision” from the court.
The Current owners of Rustavi 2, including brothers Giorgi and Levan Karamanishvili, ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili’s close associates, say the court verdict is an attempt by the authorities to silence the opposition-minded TV station, critical of government’s policies.
“Georgian court decided to destroy the right of freedom of speech, ownership and fair trial in Georgia…We will use all legal means to protect our rights. We will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights with the request to temporarily suspend the illegal decision of the Supreme Court, until we file a lawsuit to Strasburg court,” Giorgi Karamanishvili stressed.
Rustavi 2 TV Director General, Nika Gvaramia stated that the Court decision is a loss of democracy, freedom and justice in Georgia. He offered Khalvashi to sell the TV station to the Rustavi 2 team.
“It has been declared that maintenance of editorial policy of Rustavi 2 is important. Khalvashi said that for him Rustavi 2 is a business issue and he is going to sell the TV company, we are making the following proposal: behind me are the people who are the foundation of the TV company today, sell Rustavi 2 to them,” Gvaramia stated.
However, Khalvashi rejected the offer, saying he is not going to make any deals with Gvaramia.
“Gvaramia is a representative of Mikheil Saakashvili and negotiations with them are impossible. I am not going to sell the TV in the near future,” Khalvashi said.
Yesterday’s verdict over Rustavi 2 was disapproved by the opposition parties, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the international community.
The UNM members set up tents in front of Rustavi 2 headquarters, while Parliamentary minority Movement for Freedom-European Georgia condemned the court verdict, saying they will not allow new owners enter the TV building.
The party called on “all friends of Georgia to stand side by side with the Georgian democracy.”
United States Embassy to Georgia also issued a statement regarding the case.
“The United States views with concern the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Rustavi 2, which could effectively limit the access of opposition voices to Georgian broadcast media. A pluralistic media environment is essential for Georgia’s democratic growth and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. We urge the Georgian government to take steps to ensure that the media environment remains free, open, and pluralistic,” the statement reads.
Moreover, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, expressed concern over the Court’s decision.
“Disappointing move and huge blow to media pluralism in Georgia,” Dunja Mijatovic said in her twitter post.
Georgian NGOs released a joint statement regarding the issue today, saying they are concerned with the decision of Grand Chamber.
“We want to emphasize, that this decision damages not only the further democratic development of Georgia, but limits freedom of media, pluralistic media environment and threatens Euro-Atlantic integration process,” the statement reads.
The majority says the case was an ordinary ownership dispute and denies having any interference in the Court’s activities.
“This is a legal dispute over the ownership and the UNM, Saakashvili and their team are trying to transfer it into a political scenario,” Eka beselia, member of the ruling party Georgian Dream stated.