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Vakho Sanaia

Georgian prosecutors have charged three people for an attack on investigative television journalist Vakho Sanaia, who believes his assailants targeted him over his work.

The Interior Ministry said on February 26 that the suspects, who are said to have been drinking before the attack, were charged with violence committed by a group against two or more individuals.

Sanaia says he and a relative were returning from the airport in Tbilisi at night when they were approached by the three suspects in "an aggressive manner" after their car broke down.

"They were directly aggressive toward me as a representative of the media," he said.

"They started provoking me, started swearing at us, at TV Pirveli, they were aggressive toward media in general," he added, blaming general anti-media "propaganda" pushed by the ruling Georgia Dream party against outlets critical of the government.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili condemned the attack saying "the response from the state will be adequate and the perpetrators will be held accountable with the full severity of the law."

Georgia has been rocked by political turmoil in recent months amid repeated opposition claims that fall elections were rigged even though international observers said the October 31, 2020 vote, which triggered protests, was broadly free and fair.

The election campaign itself was marred by violent attacks against at least five journalists during clashes between pro-government and pro-opposition activists.

Opposition activists gathered on February 26 outside parliament demanding fresh elections and the release of all political prisoners, a reference to a raid on the headquarters of a major opposition party this week and the arrest of the party’s leader, Nika Melia.

Melia was arrested over allegations that he incited violence at protests nearly two years ago. He has dismissed the allegations as politically motivated.

International rights group Amnesty International called the heavy use of force to take Melia into custody before a court has heard his appeal against pretrial detention a troubling indicator.

The South Caucasus country is ranked 60th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny stands in a glass cage at a Moscow court hearing on February 20.

MOSCOW -- Russia's prison authority has confirmed that opposition political leader Aleksei Navalny has been moved from the Moscow detention center where had been held since mid-January to another prison.

Aleksandr Kalashnikov, the head of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), did not specify on February 26 where the Kremlin critic was being taken, nor was it clear whether Navalny had arrived at the facility or if he was still on his way there to begin serving a 2 1/2 year sentence.

"He has been transferred to where he is supposed to be under the court ruling," Kalashnikov told reporters.

"I guarantee that there is no threat to his health, let alone his life," he added.

The Russian authorities typically do not provide information about the transfer of prisoners until after they reach their destination, which could be anywhere in the country.

The confirmation comes a day after Navalny’s lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, said he had gone to the detention center where Navalny, 44, was being held, only to find he had been taken to an undisclosed location.

On February 2, a Moscow court changed a 3 1/2 year suspended sentence that was handed down to Navalny in 2014 to a custodial sentence after ruling that the anti-corruption crusader had violated the terms of the earlier court decision. After deducting time already served in custody, the court ruled that Navalny must spend 2 1/2 years behind bars.

Navalny was detained by Russian police in January immediately upon returning from Berlin, where he was recovering from what German investigators determined was a poisoning attempt using a Novichok-type nerve agent.

Navalny Detained At Moscow Airport
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Russian authorities claimed that he violated the terms of his suspended sentence by not contacting corrections officials while he was receiving treatment in Germany.

Navalny fell ill in August 2020 while flying from Siberia to Moscow and, after emergency medical intervention in Omsk, he was medically evacuated to Germany, where he spent several months recovering.

He has blamed the incident on Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the open-source investigative organization Bellingcat has tied the poisoning to a team of Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives.

'I Know Who Wanted To Kill Me': Millions Watch Navalny Video Naming Alleged Hit Squad
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The Russian government has denied involvement in the poisoning and has refused to open a criminal investigation into the incident.

Navalny and his supporters have said the criminal cases filed against him, the poisoning attack, and other incidents of harassment are retribution for his political activity and his outspoken criticism of the Putin government.

Navalny’s arrest and sentencing set off a wave of national protests that the authorities responded to forcefully, detaining more than 10,000 people in dozens of cities and filing administrative and criminal cases against many of them.

5 Things To Know About Russia's Big Navalny Protests
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The European Union is in the process of considering fresh sanctions against Russia over the Navalny case and has criticized Moscow for ignoring a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights ordering that he be released immediately.

The United Nations said on February 26 that its human rights investigators will issue their findings from an investigation of Navalny's case at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 1.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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