| TBILISI, March 2
TBILISI, March 2 Georgia's Supreme Court on
Thursday ordered a change of ownership at the biggest
independent TV station Rustavi 2, in a move critics say is an
attempt to silence the media.
Hundreds of viewers, opposition politicians and supporters
of Rustavi 2 rallied outside the court and moved to the
broadcaster's studio building in a gesture of support after the
ruling was announced.
The TV station has been fighting court battles since August
2015 when a court found in favour of former co-owner Kibar
Khalvashi and ordered the seizure of its property and later the
seizure of shares in the company that owns Rustavi 2.
Government officials have accused the popular TV station of
bias. Critics fear Khalvashi will silence the only strong media
voice critical of the government in Georgia.
Khalvashi says he was forced to give up his shares under the
government of former president Mikheil Saakashvili, whose party
lost an election in 2012, and he wanted them back.
The Supreme Court ordered a change of owner at Rustavi 2 and
Khalvashi, co-owner from 2004 to 2006, got back his controlling
Opposition politicians and many independent experts say the
case is an attempt to silence independent media in the country
of 3.7 million. Foreign diplomats have also voiced concern.
Government officials have denied involvement in the case.
The broadcaster's director general condemned the decision as
illegal and politically motivated.
"We have witnessed defeat of democracy, defeat of justice
and defeat of freedom of speech," Nika Gvaramia said during a
live talk-show at Rustavi 2.
"You deprived the Georgian people of Rustavi 2, but we will
be defending freedom of speech until the end," Diana Jojua, one
of the broadcaster's anchors, said.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)