Georgian Government breaches human rights of journalists and former Minister
The Georgian Government has recently settled two cases at the European Court of Human Rights, acknowledging that it had violated Articles 3, 5, 6 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, based at Middlesex University, and the Georgian Young Lawyers Association in Tbilisi represented the applicants in both cases.
Studio Maestro Ltd. & others v Georgia (22318/10)
The applicants in this case were Studio Maestro (a private television company), two of its journalists (Teona Laliashvili and Shota Kapanadze) and a press officer from a political party (Nestan Inasaradze). Between April and June 2009, thousands of opposition supporters held demonstrations in Tbilisi and other major Georgian cities, demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili. On 15 June, the journalists attended the demonstrations to cover the events, and witnessed police officers chasing and beating demonstrators indiscriminately with rubber truncheons and baseball bats. When the police became aware that their actions were being filmed, they forcibly took away the journalists’ cameras, leaving Ms. Inasaradze with a contusion in her hand and bruising on her spine. Despite a pledge from the Deputy Minister of the Interior the next day, and a public apology to all injured journalists, no effective investigation has taken place to date.
The journalists complained that they had been ill-treated and all the applicants including the television company complained of a violation of their right to freedom of expression (Article 10), as the police had impeded them in their journalistic activities. The Government issued a Unilateral Declaration, admitting that there had been a violation of Article 3 (because of the failure to investigate the injuries inflicted on Nestan Inasaradze), and a violation of Article 10 with respect to all of them.
The applicants were awarded a total of €7,500 to cover damages and costs.
Mirtskhulava v Georgia (18372/04)
Davit Mirtskhulava was the Minister of Energy of Georgia from 1999 to 2003, but on 24 December 2003, he was accused of misappropriation of State funds. He was convicted on 30 March 2005 by the Tbilisi City Court and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment; this sentence was later shortened, and Mr. Mirtskhulava was pardoned by President Saakashvili, who had previously made comments in support of his arrest. Mr. Mirtskhulava suffered health problems throughout his detention, and spent extensive periods of his sentence in the prison hospital.
Mr. Mirtskhulava complained to the European Court that the lack of adequate medical care constituted ill-treatment under Article 3 of the European Convention. He alleged that his arrest and pre-trial detention had been unreasonable, violating his right to liberty and security of the person under Article 5. He also argued that President Saakashvili’s initial comments about his arrest violated the presumption of innocence (under Article 6(2)), and the right to respect for his private life (Article 8). Finally, under Article 1 of Protocol No. 12, he claimed that the criminal investigation against him had been a form of discriminatory treatment.
In resolving the case, the Government admitted the following violations of the European Convention:
- Article 3 – because of Mr. Mirtskhulava’s inadequate medical treatment in prison;
- Articles 5(1) & 5(3) – due to errors in the course of his pre-trial detention, and insufficient reasoning in the court decisions authorising his detention;
- Article 6(2) – as the President’s statements had undermined the presumption of innocence.
The Government also agreed to pay Mr. Mirtskhulava €5000 in damages and costs.