Georgian human rights ombudsman Sozar Subari has released a statement condemning the reported harassment by senior Abkhaz officials of Inal Khashig, editor in chief of the independent Abkhaz newspaper "Chegemskaya pravda," Caucasus Press reports.
Khashig was accosted on the seafront in Sukhumi on February 6 by three men, allegedly including de facto President Sergei Bagapsh's nephew David Bagapsh, who heads the presidential bodyguard, the website kavkaz-uzel.ru reports, quoting local Abkhaz journalists.
Khashig says the three men forced him into their car, drove him out of town, and warned him that unless he tones down his paper's criticisms of the Abkhaz leadership, he will share the fate of murdered Russian journalists Dmitry Kholodov and Anna Politkovskaya. The men specifically mentioned an article published in "Chegemskaya pravda " on February 3 about a congress of the pro-Bagapsh United Abkhazia party.
Khashig was then driven back into the capital and dropped off.
In his statement, Subari calls on the international community and human rights organizations to show solidarity so that journalists working in Abkhazia -- regardless of origin or nationality -- have the possibility to perform their work without restrictions or danger.
On February 18, a group of independent Abkhaz journalists wrote to Bagapsh, expressing their concern at the pressure exerted on Khashig. Noting that presidential elections are due in the fall, they warned that the republic's authorities risk triggering "a civic confrontation" if they continue to respond to criticism with strong-arm methods.
Bagapsh's spokesman Khristian Bzhania told kavkaz-uzel.ru that the president has not received such a letter, and that he therefore could not comment on it.
At the same time, he denied that any members of the presidential administration have threatened Khashig.
Bzhania said he recently "discussed the situation" by telephone with Khashig, who "did not say that anyone has threatened him."