On September 6th, 2005, a Georgian television journalist named Schalwa Ramishvili was arrested on charges of blackmail.
According to the authorities, Ramishvili had accepted a $30,000 bribe from a politician to stop airing a program on government corruption. However, Ramishvili claims that the transaction was actually an undercover sting for an upcoming exposé on corruption.
Critics of the regime
As the founder of television station TV 202, Ramishvili was known for being openly critical of the regime of President Michail Saakashvili.
In fact, TV 202 was one of the only media outlets in Georgia that dared to take a critical stance towards the government. Given this background, it’s not surprising that opposition MPs have called the arrest of Ramishvili and his colleague, Davit Kokhreidze, a blow to press freedom.
According to Ramishvili, he agreed to be bribed by the politician, Koba Bekauri, so he could secretly film the act and include it in his exposé. By doing so, he wanted to demonstrate how far the government was willing to go to cover up corruption.
Ramishvili and Kokhreidze met Bekauri on Saturday and accepted $30,000 from him. However, Ramishvili claims that he did not take a hidden camera with him because he did not want to arouse suspicions and he knew that he would be searched. He planned to take a hidden camera to their second meeting, where he was supposed to collect a further $70,000 from the politician.
However, things didn’t go as planned. Bekauri was wearing a wire when they met, and the two journalists were arrested by security forces shortly after the transaction took place.
In court, Ramishvili admitted that his investigation had been badly planned and carried out. He said, “I turned out to be a very ineffective Sherlock Holmes, and Bekauri outsmarted me.”
Nevertheless, he insisted that he was innocent and claimed that he had witnesses who would back up his claims that Bekauri had been threatening him for months over the upcoming investigative report.
The pair have been remanded in custody for three months by a Tbilisi court and face up to 15 years in jail if convicted. This arrest has sparked a debate about press freedom in Georgia and the lengths to which journalists will go to uncover the truth.
On one hand, some argue that Ramishvili’s actions were unethical and that he should be held accountable for his actions. On the other hand, others argue that he was simply trying to expose corruption and that the authorities are using this as an excuse to silence critical voices in the media.
Regardless of one’s stance on this issue, it’s clear that Ramishvili’s arrest has raised important questions about press freedom and the role of journalists in uncovering corruption.
It remains to be seen how this case will play out in court and what the consequences will be for Ramishvili, Kokhreidze, and the media landscape in Georgia.