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    Pankisi Community Radio Is Threatened With Raid - Rally Organized by SSSG and Local Government

    პარასკევი, 04 სექტემბერი 2020 11:19 view 690
    Pankisi Community Radio Is Threatened With Raid - Rally Organized by SSSG and Local Government

    „Mtivlishvili should be kicked out of here. People are worried that no one says anything about him. There are people out there who will throw his things (radio equipment, inventory) out of the office right now. Young people say that they are ready to do so today. We have to give him some time, 5 days or a week, after this time we will gather. Either he will go by himself, or we’ll let him go by force. Most people came here today because of this“, - Tamaz Margoshvili, a resident of the village of Duisi, publicly threatened to raid the community radio's studio and to force its founder, journalist Gela Mtivlishvili to give up his professional activities in the Pankisi Gorge. Margoshvili made this statement at the rally which took place on August 29, 10 meters from the Duisi police department.

    More than 150 locals participated in the rally organized by Lia Margoshvili, a manager at the Roddy Scott Foundation Georgia. Lia Margoshvili is an activist of the Georgian Dream party and the party's representative at the polling station during the elections. The Roddy Scott Foundation has had free English language courses in Pankisi for many years. The training center is located in Duisi, in the former village council building. On the second floor, in a small part, there is Pankisi Community Radio's office as well. The owner of the building is Akhmeta Municipality. Radio leases 89.7 sq.m. working space from 2015 to 2021, with the right to use. The Ethnographic Museum of Pankisi, a small sewing workshop, and a dental office are on the first floor of the building. Two old women also live there.

    A few weeks ago, the radio's staff learned that the Roddy Scott Foundation plans to buy the entire two-story building and has already obtained approval from the local government. The building was even measured by the order of the Akhmeta Municipality City Hall. As we found out, the head of the foundation, Lia Margoshvili, promised those who use the building, that there was no danger of their expulsion. Khaso Khangoshvili, a member of the Council of Elders and the head of the Pankisi Museum, expressed dissatisfaction with the privatization of the building that way. He was promised that the museum's space would be allocated separately and would not be a subject of privatization.

    As far as we are aware, according to the agreement reached between the leaders of Akhmeta Municipality and the Roddy Scott Foundation, the community radio will maintain office until 2021, as specified in the lease agreement, and after the lease expires, the new owner will not sign a new agreement with the radio.

    The Pankisi Community Radio has spent about 60 thousand GEL on the rehabilitation of the office. In addition to community broadcasting, the radio office periodically offers free training courses, where young men and women take theoretical and practical classes in driving license, accounting, small project writing, and grant-seeking. More than 300 people have benefited in 2 years.

    On July 31, the Center for Civic Activities (an organization that holds a community radio broadcasting license in Pankisi) applied to the Akhmeta Municipality for the public information on who was interested in purchasing the building and whether the proceeding had begun.

    The Akhmeta Municipality did not provide public information within the timeframe determined by law. The Mayor Ioseb Karumashvili, issued public information only after we applied an administrative complaint to him. Besides, we asked the Municipality to provide written information about an auction or other forms of disposal of the municipal building. On August 12, the Mayor of Akhmeta officially informed us that the Roddy Scott Foundation Georgia had applied to the municipality with a request to privatize the building.

    What happened - After we asked for information about the possible privatization, Akhmeta Mayor Ioseb Karumashvili told Lia Margoshvili, the head of the Roddy Scott Foundation, that they weren’t able to give the building to the foundation anymore. Margoshvili was advised to organize a rally in Duisi, to gather as many people as possible and demand the transfer of the building.

    According to the plan set at the Akhmeta Municipality, members of Akhmeta Council from the villages of Pankisi, and the City Hall employees had to attend the rally.

    Several sources from the City Hall informed us that the rally participants, on the instructions of the Mayor Karumashvili and the State Security Service (SSSG) employees - Lasha Goderdzishvili and Giorgi Kharitonashvili,  should protest against the Pankisi Community Radio and its founder, journalist Gela Mtivlishvili, accuse Mtivlishvili of harming the interests of the gorge and the population, and require him to leave Pankisi.

    Akhmeta Mayor Ioseb Karumashvili doesn’t cooperate with Pankisi Community Radio due to the radio’s critical coverage of local government activities. We still addressed him and asked why he was involved in planning the rally against the radio and why the City Hall staff was attending the rally where the participants threatened to raid on the radio and expel the journalist from the gorge. „I do not have time to be interested in you“, - responded Ioseb Karumashvili to our message. We were unable to contact the State Security Service staff.

    Each employee of the Roddy Scott Foundation was instructed by Lia Margoshvili to bring 20 participants (children and parents) at the rally scheduled for August 29, otherwise, she hinted that they would be fired.

    „In some cases, teachers came to our homes, and in other cases, they called us on the phone and asked to go to the rally with children to prevent the English school of the Roddy Scott Foundation from closing. Many parents went to the rally and we let the kids go. We learned that the protest was against the radio and its founder during the rally “, - residents of Duisi and Jokolo told Pankisi Community Radio.

    We asked Lia Margoshvili why she’d threatened her employees with dismissal, but she did not comment.

     The rally was attended by Roddy Scott Foundation students (minors) and their parents. There were parents and other family members of those young people, who beat a father and his under-age son, breaking the father’s hand for walking down the street in shorts. The violence that occurred a few days earlier in the village of Kvareltskali was covered in detail by Pankisi Community Radio. The prosecutor's office charged Islam Pareulidze, Adam Bagakashvili, and the juvenile A.I. with an intentional less grave bodily injury committed on a discriminatory basis, and violence committed by a group against a minor. Two accused were sentenced to pre-trial detention and a juvenile was released on bail. Family members of the accused blame the radio for prosecuting their children.

    Relatives of those convicted for the murder of Visuri Mutoshvili also took part in the rally. Visuri Mutoshvili, 37, was killed on November 27, 2019, in the Pankisi Gorge. Gunmen shot him in broad daylight in front of some police officers in the village center. The community radio produced several critical reports on the case. Kavtarashvili and Mutoshvili families confronted each other over the disagreement about the construction of hydropower plants in the Pankisi Gorge.

    „If anything is damaged in this gorge, everything comes from him. There are a lot of things coming from hydropower plant, there are a lot of things lately that he damages. He has never protected the interests of our people. 10-20 people in the gorge support him, the rest are all against him.

    We have to give him some time, 5 days or a week, after this time we will gather. Either he’ll go by himself, or we’ll let him go by force. Most people came here today because of this. We’ll solve this case thanks to God and not give the building to anyone“, - Tamaz Margoshvili, a resident of Duisi, said at the rally.

    The video material shows that when the protester Tamaz Margoshvili was openly threatening to raid the office of the Community Radio, saying that there were groups of young people ready to throw out radio items, members of the Georgian Dream party - Ramaz Baghakashvili (deputy chairman of Akhmeta Council), Tamaz Borchashvili  (a member of Council from the village of Jokolo) and Rostom Alkhanashvili (a member of Council from Khalatsani community) stood next to him.

    Tamaz Margoshvili ended his speech at the rally, which contained signs of some criminal offenses, in such a way that none of the members of the Council neither interrupted his public call for violence nor condemned it.

    „What should I say in public? Then I told him separately that there is no primitive age and this is not allowed. But everyone has freedom of expression, he’ll say whatever he wants. I was asked to come to the rally and I went. Lia Margoshvili called me. No one from the State Security Service and the Municipality told me anything“, - Ramaz Bagakashvili told Pankisi Community Radio.

    Employees of the Duisi administrative unit of Akhmeta Municipality, as well as several teachers of Duisi Public School, three or four employees of one of the non-governmental organizations operating in the gorge, and family members of State Security Service employees took part in the rally.

    At the end of the rally, Lia Margoshvili thanked the participants and cursed the staff of Pankisi Community Radio: „Thank you to everyone who came here today for the Roddy Scott Foundation and who was concerned. I want all of you to tell these deputies what you’ve heard here today so that they can bring it to Akhmeta and tell it. This case was started, they were already doing it, Gela intervened and stopped it. I am told not to mention Gela's name, but let the fire burn Gela and everyone who stands behind him“.

    According to Article 151 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, a threat of killing, damaging health, or destroying property committed by a group when a person threatened has started to have a reasonable sensation of fear that the threat will be carried out, shall be punished by a fine or community service for a term of 170 to 200 hours, or by corrective labor for a term of up to two years or by imprisonment for a term of up to three years, with or without the restriction of the rights regarding weapons.

    According to Article 154 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, unlawful interference with the journalist’s professional activities, i.e. coercing a journalist into disseminating or not disseminating information, shall be punished by a fine or community service for a term of 120 to 140 hours or by corrective labor for a term of up to two years, or house arrest for a term of six months to two years. The same act committed using the threat of violence, shall be punished by a fine or imprisonment for up to two years, with or without the deprivation of the right to hold any office or to carry out activities for up to three years or without this.

    From the editorial staff: Although the rally took place next to the police and law enforcement officers listened to the speakers, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has not yet launched an investigation into the facts of threats. The inaction of the police does not surprise us, as we remember many cases in the gorge when the law enforcement officers were forced to respond to more serious crimes only after the media reporting.

    Pankisi Community Radio addresses the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia to launch an immediate investigation on the facts of threats made during the August 29 rally.

    We also call on the State Security Service and local authorities to stop inciting hatred and misinformation against Pankisi Community Radio and its founder by using individuals under their influence.

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