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European Court Extends Suspension On Change To Georgian TV Owner

  • RFE/RL's Georgian Service

Rustavi-2 Director-General Nika Gvaramia welcomed extension, saying that "Europe saved us today, Europe saved Georgia today." (file photo)

Europe's top human rights court has prolonged its suspension of an attempt by the government in Tbilisi to put the country's biggest independent television station under the control of an alleged close government ally.

Georgia's Supreme Court on March 2 backed a legal ruling that broadcaster Rustavi-2 should be returned to its former co-owner, businessman Kibar Khalvashi.

Critics have alleged that the move is an attempt by the government to stifle political dissent in media.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on March 3 imposed a brief suspension against the Georgian Supreme Court's ruling.

Known as an "interim measure," the Strasbourg court's temporary suspension order was due to expire on March 8.

But Rustavi-2's lawyer Tamta Muradashvili said she was informed by the Strasbourg-based court on March 7 that judges there had unanimously ruled in favor of prolonging the suspension order on the issue.

Muradashvili said the extension did not have an end date, allowing Rustavi-2's lawyers to prepare a case to file at the European court that challenges the legality of the government's move.

Rustavi 2 Director-General Nika Gvaramia posted what appeared to be a letter from the court on Facebook. It said court officials decided to leave the suspension in place "until further notice."

Georgia's justice minister was not immediately available for comment on March 7.

But Muradashvili said the government was unlikely to disobey the instructions from the ECHR.

On March 4, Georgia's government followed the initial order from the European court and suspended the takeover of Rustavi-2

Gvaramia welcomed the ECHR extension, saying in a televised statement on March 7 that "Europe saved us today, Europe saved Georgia today."

Government officials have accused the popular TV station of bias, while critics fear Khalvashi -- a close supporter of the ruling Georgian Dream party -- would silence the only strong media voice critical of the government.

Opposition politicians charge that billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who founded the Georgian Dream coalition and served as prime minister for a year, was behind the Supreme Court's ruling handing Rustavi-2 over to Khalvashi.

Khalvashi contends that the Georgian authorities under former President Mikheil Saakashvili had forced him to sell Rustavi-2 at an undervalued price.

Georgia is one of 47 members of the ECHR, which was established in 1959 and bases its rulings on the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950.

With reporting by Reuters, Ron Synovitz, and Mark Najarian
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