12 July 2016 – PEN International is calling for the Georgian authorities to halt the judicial harassment and persecution of well-known print and television journalist Irakli Kordzaia. Although full details of the case are unclear to PEN International, it appears that Kordzaia has been charged under articles 14 and 18 of the Law on the Freedom of Speech and Expression (Defamation against a public figure and Groundless claim for defamaation), which are civil offences. His trial has been set for 15 July 2016.
The case has been brought against Kordzaia by a high-ranking Georgian official, who is also a senior member of the ruling party, after Kordzaia’s exposés of the official’s patronage of Georgian Police Paramilitary units and their activities. The official is now a high-ranking official. Kordzaia has made statements implicating the official in involvement in the March 2015 murder of businessman Beso Khardziani and has been under pressure to withdraw his allegations. After he refused to do so, he was charged.
Kordzaia is a prominent Georgian journalist and has written for newspapers such as Dilis Gazeti, Rezonansi, 24 Hours Abkhazia and The Georgian Times, as well as for the TV companies Maestro and Kavkasia and radio station Radio Green Wave.
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Please send appeals to the Georgian authorities:
- Expressing concern at the harassment of Irakli Kordzaia and urging the Georgian authorities to drop all charges of defamation against him, as well as any other charges which relate to his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. • Calling on them to ensure that investigative journalists reporting on alleged human rights violations are enabled to carry out their work in safety and without fear of persecution or reprisals.
Please send appeals to:
Prime Minister of Georgia
7 Ingorokva St
Tbilisi 0114, Georgia
Tel: (995 32) 299 09 00
Salutation: Your Excellency
Minister of Justice
Gorgasali Str.N24, Tbilisi, Georgia 0102
(+(995 32) 405 505 2
Salutation: Dear Minister
**Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after 12 August 2016***
Please send us copies of your letters or information about other activities and of any responses received.
PEN members are encouraged to publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Irakli Kordzaia and the situation for freedom for expression in Georgia.
Kordzaia has been detained and questioned several times since March 2015. The first time, on 31 March at the Georgian Prosecutors Office, Kordzaia was questioned about a statement he made after the murder of businessman Beso Khardziani, who was shot to death outside his home on 28 March 2015. In his statement Kordzaia has implicated one official in the ordering of the murder and another in the cover-up. The testimony was allegedly given under hostile circumstances.
He was then questioned on both the seventh and eighth of May 2015. On 7 May he was brought into the Tblisi Prosecutors Office to change his deposition against the paramilitary squads and the government official he accused of orchestrating a cover-up. His rights were violated; he was questioned without an attorney and pressure was applied for him to renounce his previous statements. He was released only after a campaign by the Georgian mass media.
On 8 May he was questioned again, but this time in the presence of a Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) attorney. He was brought in on false pretences; Kordzaia thought that he was to be questioned as a victim of police violence in 2009. Instead, pressure was again applied to him to renounce his previous statements. He was also pressured to release his journalistic sources.
After these questionings he was forced to leave Georgia on 19 May 2015, but returned after high-level government officials promised that persecution would stop. Around this time, two officials from Georgian law-enforcement agencies tried to bribe him with a fee of around €220,000, but after his refusal persecution began again. Then, on 5 July 2016 he was made aware that he is due to trial on 15 July 2016.
Kordzaia has been arrested several times before. On 25 October 2007 he was held in an illegal detention and let go after one day. On 20 November 2007 he was arrested for placing placards in legal places. On 15 April 2008 he was detained at his home and threatened by police officers and told not make statements about paramilitary squads and the police in Georgia. On 17 April 2009 he was detained and assaulted by police officers, and told to ‘shut up politically’. PEN International was made aware of nine instances overall that involved the arrest of Kordzaia.
He has also been receiving death threats since a 2009 campaign against police paramilitary squads. The threats have mainly been via telephone, and have involved threats of killing, kidnap, rape and torture. The threats continue up until today.
International human rights standards put a high value on uninhibited expression in the context of ‘public debate concerning public figures in the political domain and public institutions. ’ The Human Rights Committee has been clear that the ‘mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties’.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly has repeatedly called for the abolition of all laws that provide criminal penalties for the defamation of public figures or which penalise defamation of the state or state organs. The UN, OSCE and Organisation of American States (OAS) Special Mandates have gone even further, stating: ‘Criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws.’
For further information please contact Ann Harrison at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Koops Mill Mews, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: firstname.lastname@example.org