IFJ Calls for Urgent Probe Over Mystery Robbery of Georgian Association of Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' group, today urged President Eduard Shevardnadze to launch an investigation into a mysterious robbery of the offices of the IFJ affiliated Independent Association of Georgian Journalists (IAGJ).

The President of IAGJ, Zviad Pochkhua, said that their offices were robbed on July 8th. The intruders stole, among other things, documents and papers, including project information, official letters received from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, internal reports, and most importantly, documents connected to investigations into violence against journalists, and the Association's contact list.

"This was no ordinary robbery," said the IFJ. "This act of violence carries with it all the signs of intimidation and a clear warning to Georgian Journalists about their political and professional work." The IFJ says IAGJ has lost the electronic versions of these documents, including their entire database. About 150 active Journalists are affiliated to the Association.

IAGJ leaders consider the incident to be an instance of pressure on free media. "The robbery is a challenge to the authorities - they must investigate thoroughly and ease the fears of journalists that they are being targeted," said the IFJ.

On the same day, Member of Parliament Guram Sharadze led a demonstration in front of the Liberty Institute to demand that it be closed, accusing it and the Tblisi Press Club of distributing information about corruption and the Soviet-era past of certain local officials.

Two days later, on 10 July, more than half a dozen men armed with iron bars burst into the offices of the Tblisi Press Club and the Liberty Institute, a human rights and press freedom non-governmental organisation. Liberty Institute Director Levan Ramishvili and several others were beaten and taken to hospital, and both organisations' computers were destroyed.