Georgian government under rising pressure following the death of journalist beaten by an anti-LGBT mob
On July 11, 2021, the Cameraman of “Tv Pirveli”, Lekso Lashqarava, was found dead in his home in Tbilisi. Lashqarava was recovering from injuries he sustained several days earlier from a violent mob of anti-LGBT protesters. His death sparked widespread protests against the government of Georgian PM Irakli Gharibashvili, both home and among Western partners.
Several thousand people gathered outside Parliament in central Tbilisi on the same day, demanding the PM and Interior Minister stand down. Protests were also held in Batumi, Kutaisi, Zugdidi, Gori, Akhaltsikhe, and Telavi. Twenty leading Georgia-based civil rights organisations also released a joint statement calling for their resignation. The government has faced accusations of inaction and even complicity in the riots in the capital on July 5.
Meanwhile, more than 70 Georgian media organisations, including Civil Georgia (Civil.ge) have appealed to the international community in the aftermath of the death of Lashkarava, saying that “cases of violation of the rights of media representatives in Georgia have reached a critical level”.
The signatory media organisations asked the representatives of the diplomatic corps and international organisations accredited in Georgia immediately and effectively respond “to the purposive persecution of media representatives on Rustaveli Avenue on July 5, the facts of damage to health, obstruction of professional duties and inaction of the Georgian government.”
One day later, after a noon deadline for Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili and his government to step down passed, a session of Georgia’s parliament has been disrupted after opposition journalists entered the building and scuffles broke out between members of the ruling Georgian Dream party and opposition parties.
The Georgian Government has avoided taking responsibility for the circumstances surrounding Lashkarava’s death. During two press conferences, an Interior Ministry spokesperson claimed that they were looking into all possible scenarios regarding Lashkarava’s death. However, the ministry focused on details of Lashkarava’s movement in the hours prior to his death, strongly suggesting that it may have been drug-related.
In the meantime, the government did not escape criticism from the West. MEPs Andrius Kubilius and Rasa Jukneviciene have released a statement in which they required full and impartial investigation in Lashkarava’s death and blamed local police for staggering inaction.
“Georgia is at a very serious crossroads which will define her development and success or failure for nearest decades. The majority of Georgians have already chosen firmly and long ago the European development and European values. However, there are forces at work, which work to impede Georgia’s progress on this path and reverse it,“ reads the statement.
Asked whether the U.S. is considering sanctions for Georgian officials over the anti-LGBT violence in Tbilisi on July 5, which left at least 53 journalists attacked, and was followed by the death of one of the attacked journalists, the U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, “we have a number of tools to hold accountable those responsible in some way for human rights abuses, for violence around the world. Sanctions are indeed one of those tools.”
“We don’t preview sanctions before we enact them,” the Spokesperson asserted, adding that “but we are following the situation very closely, and we are committed to seeing to it that those responsible for this are held accountable.”
Another camera operator who was attacked by a mob on July 5, the employee of Georgia Public Broadcasting, Ilia Tvaliashvili, partially lost his sight as a result of a severe beating. “I still can’t understand how you can beat up a complete stranger so mercilessly… I remember falling on the ground and being kicked to the head,” Tvaliashvili recalls.
As of July 15, the second person was detained, being accused of attacking Tvaliashvili. In total, 21 people were detained because of attacks on journalists. They have pressed charges on obstruction of journalistic activities, harassment and participation in gang violence.