Georgian Court Upholds Prison Time For Opposition Journalist, Sparking U.S. Criticism

By RFE/RL's Georgian Service

An appellate court in Tbilisi has rejected an appeal filed by Georgian journalist Nika Gvaramia against his conviction and imprisonment on a charge of abuse of power in a case decried by EU and U.S. officials.

The Tbilisi Court of Appeals ruled on November 2 that a decision by a lower court in May to sentence Gvaramia to 3 1/2 years in prison was correct and the journalist and founding director of the independent Mtavari Arkhi TV channel must serve out his sentence.

Some of those gathered in the courtroom for the ruling erupted into cries of "Slave!" in a reference to the panel of judges who heard the case.

Gvaramia, who has insisted that the case against him is politically motivated, said he will now turn to the European Court of Human Rights.

The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi immediately expressed its "deep concern" after the appellate ruling and cited "significant questions" from local and international rights defenders over the charges and their timing.

"At a time when Georgia’s commitment to an impartial judiciary and media pluralism is being closely reviewed, the continued imprisonment of Nika Gvaramia, the director-general of the main opposition TV channel, puts at risk the clear choice of the people of Georgia – and Georgian leaders’ stated goal – for a more secure, democratic European future," the embassy said.

Tbilisi accelerated its bid for EU membership after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in late February.

But unlike aspiring members Ukraine and Moldova, Georgia was not granted "candidate" status in June pending an EU checklist of required reforms related to democracy, media freedom, and the rule of law.

Earlier in June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on "violations of media freedom and the safety of journalists in Georgia" that singled out Gvaramia's case and "deplored the significant deterioration of the media situation in Georgia, including cases of intimidation, threats and violence, and politically motivated criminal investigations into media workers and owners."

Gvaramia served as Georgia's justice minister in 2008 and education minister in 2008-09, both under then-President Mikheil Saakashvili.

He then served as director-general of Rustavi-2 before founding Mltavari Arkhi in 2019.

The Tbilisi City Court in May sentenced the 46-year-old journalist and lawyer to 3 1/2 years in prison after finding him guilty of abuse of power related to his activities atop Rustavi-2 in 2019.

It also found co-defendant Kakhaber Damenia, a former financial director of Rustavi-2, guilty of embezzlement and ordered him to pay a 50,000 lari ($18,000) fine. Another co-defendant, the director of the Inter Media Plus news agency, Zurab Iashvili, was acquitted of all charges.