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The Georgian DREAM of Press Freedom – The Case of Nika Gvaramia

By Pedro Pizano and Luke Englebert

The arrest and continued imprisonment of Nika Gvaramia exemplifies the declining state of press freedom in Georgia and marks the end of the democratic dream shared by many Georgian citizens. On May 16, 2022, the Georgian judicial system found Mr. Gvaramia guilty of purportedly trumped-up charges and has unjustly detained him since.

Mr. Gvaramia is the founder and Director General of Mtavari Television Channel and is recognized as a well-known critic, journalist, and businessman in Georgia. Since 2012, Mr. Gvaramia has been one of the most public and effective watchdogs of Bidzina Ivanishvili — a Georgian oligarch who is alleged to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin regime. He also is the founder of Georgia’s current ruling party: Georgian Dream. Many experts familiar with the situation believe that Mr. Gvaramia’s unjust detention is directly tied to his criticisms of Ivanishvili.

Since his arrest, the international community including CPJ, RFS, Amnesty International, RFE/RL, Transparency International Georgia, and the U.S. Embassy in Georgia (twice), at least two European MEPs, and the Polish MFA, have reported or commented on Mr. Gvaramia’s case. Every single one of these public statements has recognized his case as the latest incident in a disturbing pattern of selective investigations and prosecutions targeting those in opposition to the current government.

Experts have also highlight on the timing of Mr. Gvaramia’s imprisonment, claiming that was not accidental. These politically motivated charges and arrest could be a blow to Georgia’s application for EU membership status.

On June 9, 2022, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the pattern of violations of media freedom and threats to Georgian journalists. This resolution referred to unjust charges against Gvaramia and assessed his case as an “attempt to silence a voice critical of the current government.”

Subsequently, on June 17 and 23 June, the EU Commission and EU Council delivered a decision on Georgia, stating that despite recent developments have undermined Georgia’s progress, the country has a foundation in place to reach the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.

The U.S. Department of State’s latest report on human rights practices in Georgia mentions the political nature of the charges against Gvaramia and his influential role in exposing corruption, crimes, and other undemocratic actions of the Georgian government.

Most notably, the Georgian government recently and controversially boycotted the international sanction regime against Russia following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Furthermore, Ukraine’s intelligence service allegedly revealed that the Georgian government helped Russia evade sanctions through its territory. Mr. Gvaramia’s imprisonment might also be directly linked to his role in exposing the Georgian government’s continued support of the Kremlin. It also has been used as a demonstrative punishment to other watchdog media outlets, supporters of Ukraine, and pro-democracy fighters in Georgia.

Mr. Gvaramia’s case is a fight for democracy in Georgia, Eastern Europe, and around the world. It highlights the critical role of a free and independent media.

Mr. Gvaramia dreams of press freedom although he knows and has said, that he is already free and no prison term or unjust can take it away from him; a freedom that those of us who, mostly, accidentally live in free democratic societies take for granted.

The international community must continue to help Mr. Gvaramia make his dream a reality for the Georgian dream party and all other Georgians who want accurate and transparent access to information.  It’s the basis of a free, prosperous, just, and democratic society.

Isn’t that the real Georgian Dream, after all?

See more: Legal Brief on Nika Gvaramia’s case

DISCLAIMER: McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.

Publish Date
November 3, 2022