European court rules against Georgia on TV company ownership

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 07, 2017 1:53 PM

By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Europe's human rights court on Tuesday again suspended an attempt by Georgia to put the country's biggest independent television station under the control of a close government ally.

Georgia's supreme court last week backed a legal ruling that broadcaster Rustavi 2 be returned to its former co-owner, businessman Kibar Khalvashi, a move that critics consider an attempt to muzzle the media.

The European Court of Human Rights imposed a brief suspension on Friday and extended that on Tuesday without setting an end date.

"The European court unanimously prolonged the suspension today," Rustavi 2 lawyer Tamta Muradashvili told Reuters.

She said Rustavi 2's lawyers would now prepare a case to file to the European court challenging the legality of the government's move.

Georgia's justice minister was not immediately available for comment, but Muradashvili said it was unlikely that the government would not follow instructions from the Strasbourg-based court.

"Europe saved us today, Europe saved Georgia today," Nika Gvaramia, the broadcaster's director general, said in a televised statement.

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.

The TV station has been fighting court battles in Georgia since August 2015, when a lower court found in favor of Khalvashi, who says he was forced to give up his controlling stake under the former government of Mikheil Saakashvili.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)