How Georgian democracy perishes: The case of Nika Gvaramia

How Georgian democracy perishes: The case of Nika Gvaramia

Georgia is the second European country after Ukraine that suffered the most from Russia’s expansionism in the last decades. It was invaded by the Russian army in 2008, and still 20% of its territory is occupied by Kremlin’s forces. Although Georgian citizens have chosen the European path for their country, a pro-Russian government in Tbilisi undermines the country’s EU future. In fact, after the 2019 citizen protests and the 2020 elections, the ruling Georgian Dream party attacked Judicial independence and media freedom. In addition, law enforcement abuses remain unpunished, illegal surveillance is applied to opposition personalities and journalists, labour conditions worsen, and violence against women and LGBT people is widespread.

The European Union warned the government of Irakli Garibashvili that its deeds concerning the rule of law could cost Georgia its relations with the EU and consequently harm the economic and institutional modernisation of the country.

The attack against and jailing of Nika Gvaramia, a politician and TV director, reveal how the restriction of judicial independence and media freedom assault interact under the Georgian Dream party rule.

EU candidacy in peril

In June 2022, the European Council set 12 priorities identified by the European Commission that Georgia should fulfill before granting the EU candidate status. These priorities concern addressing political polarisation, strengthening independence and accountability of state institutions, ensuring an independent judiciary, guaranteeing media independence and pluralism, protecting the rights of vulnerable groups, and enhancing gender equality rights.

However, the European Parliament adopted a resolution detecting a “significant deterioration” of media freedoms. It referred to intimidation, violence, and “politically motivated criminal investigations into media workers and owners” concerning journalists and the media and condemned Gvaramia’s imprisonment.

In June, the US expressed “deep concern about Georgia’s democratic trajectory.”

In September, the UN Human Rights Committee asked the government to investigate human rights violations, hold perpetrators accountable, fight violence against women, and protect people discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Nevertheless, the government of Tbilisi persecuted its political rivals by manipulating the judiciary. Opposition leaders and media personalities received severe sentences.

The way the authorities treat former President Mikheil Saakashvili is a litmus test of the Georgian government’s commitment to European values.

In a resolution adopted on 15 February, European Parliament expressed its grave concerns about the deteriorating health of Saakashvili, who is serving a six-year sentence. While noting reports of his dramatic weight loss and suggestions that he might have suffered from heavy metal poisoning while in detention, MEPs called on the Georgian authorities to release the former President and allow him to receive proper medical treatment abroad.

The case of the politician and media director Nika Gvaramia is another notorious proof of how the Georgian government treats its political rivals.

Last March, mass protests forced the government to withdraw a bill proposing to register NGOs that draw resources from outside Georgia for more than 20% of their funding as “agents of foreign influence.”

In addition, several international bodies condemned the government’s attacks on civil societies, human rights activists, and LGBT persons.

The government of Irakli Garibashvili refused to join Western sanctions against Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.

The Georgian society expressed solidarity with Ukrainians. Some 1000 volunteers are fighting in the Ukrainian army. However, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused the government impeding volunteers wishing to join Ukraine.

The judiciary under government control

In March 2023, Amnesty International underlined the growing government influence over the judiciary, the use of selective justice, and the politically motivated prosecution of political opponents and critical journalists.

On April 5, the U.S. Department of State sanctioned four Georgian judges for corruption.

“The U.S. Department of State is publicly designating Mikheil Chinchaladze, Levan Murusidze, Irakli Shengelia, and Valerian Tsertsvadze under Section 7031(c) visa restriction authorities, due to their involvement in significant corruption. These individuals abused their positions as court Chairmen and members of Georgia’s High Council of Justice, undermining the rule of law and the public’s faith in Georgia’s judicial system. The United States continues to stand with all Georgians in support of democracy and the rule of law and will continue to promote accountability for those who abuse public power for personal gain. We stand with all judges who have the integrity and courage to act impartially and independently.”

The EU has called on Georgia to ensure a truthfully independent, accountable, and impartial judiciary and the government to respect the separation of powers.

How the City Court and the Court of Appeal handled Gvaramia’s case proves the high-level politicisation of the judiciary.

Freedom of Media: Nika Gvaramia’ severe punishment

In May 2022, a court sentenced Nika Gvaramia, director of Mtavari Arkhi TV, a TV channel critical to the government, to three and a half years in prison for abuse of power.

Nika Gvaramia is a leading opposition politician and journalist. Gvaramia was elected to the Parliament in 2003 and was a leading personality of the United National Movement. He served as First Deputy Prosecutor General in 2007, in 2008, was appointed Minister of Justice, and then Minister of Education and Science until 2009.

A prominent journalist after the Georgian Dream seized power in 2012, Gvaramia was director of the Rustavi 2, which was an opposition TV station. As the broadcast aligned with government positions in 2019, Gvaramia left and became the general director of the pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi (Main Channel).

The case against him seems absurd, and the sentence inflicted is disproportionate, revealing that the prosecution is politically motivated. The authorities claimed that Gvaramia arranged a deal with an advertisement company that caused the channel a significant loss of money. The deal consisted of payment in cars in exchange for advertising. Gvaramia is accused of using one of these company cars for private purposes.

The deal was known to the owners of the company. In addition, this practice is widely applied by companies worldwide. However, the court sentenced the journalist to 3.5 years in prison, fined him 50,000 Lari (the equivalent of 15,000 euros), and incarcerated him. In October 2022, the Tbilisi Court of Appeals rejected his appeal against conviction and sentence.

In November 2022, the US Embassy in Tbilisi stated that “the continued imprisonment of Nika Gvaramia… puts at risk the clear choice of the people of Georgia – and Georgian leaders stated goal – for a more secure, democratic European future”.

The public defender of Georgia and the local office of Transparency International stated that there are no legal grounds for holding crime.

In a statement issued on November 2, the EU recalled that “stronger efforts to guarantee a free, professional, pluralistic and independent media environment, notably by ensuring that criminal procedures brought against media owners fulfill the highest legal standards,” represents one of the priorities identified by the European Commission.

Dimitri Sadzaglishvili, the lawyer of Gvaramia, said there is no precedent for imprisoning a general director for using the company’s assets.

The case is now at the Georgian Supreme Court. Although details are not yet known, Sadzaglishvili wrote us the deadline for its decision is on June 22, 2023.

Gvaramia remains in prison cell nr. 212.

“It’s clear that


On Top