Today
Thu 29 July 2021

A Pride march was forced into cancelling for a second time as far-right protestors, with support of the Orthodox Church, descended on the Georgian capital and attacked journalists, reports Sian Norris

Scenes of violence against journalists and LGBTIQ rights activists broke out on the streets of Tbilisi in Georgia, causing the city’s Pride march to be cancelled over safety concerns. 

It was to be the city’s first Pride March after 2019’s was cancelled due to threats. In a statement, the organisers accused the Georgian Government of failing “to protect the fundamental rights of people” despite having “all opportunities to ensure the safety of Pride Week participants”.

Georgia’s OC Media reported that at least 53 journalists and media workers were injured and one Polish tourist was also attacked, who reportedly said that his attackers thought he was gay. 

It is understood that the Georgian Orthodox Church was the primary organiser of Monday’s anti-Pride protests, although its ruling Patriarchate body asked for protestors to remain peaceful.

Despite this, one photo appears to show an Orthodox priest holding TV Formula journalist Rati Tsverava in a headlock. In what can only be read as a threat, the Incumbent of the Patriarchal Throne Reverend Shio Mujiri advised the Government to outlaw “insulting religious and national feelings” in order to avoid future violence. 

“No matter how many times there is an attempt to hold such an event, our nation will always unite against it”, he added. Reverend Mujiri apologised for “incorrect actions and misconduct” that led to injuries.

Several politicians from the ruling Georgian Dream Party, including Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, shifted the blame onto Tbilisi Pride. Some protestors carried the Georgian Dream flag, while Gharibashvili called Pride “inappropriate” and cited a “danger of civil conflict”.

Byline Times has previously reported how the US Christian right’s Brian Brown had visited Georgia to rail against LGBTIQ-rights, speaking in support of the ultra-nationalist Levan Vasadze. Brown accused LGBTIQ-rights of “undermining your country”. Vasdaze had previously called Pride organisers “propagandists of perversion”. 


A Day of Violence 

The day started with far-right and other anti-LGBTIQ groups gathering in Tbilisi’s streets. The city’s Pride offices were attacked, smashing glass and plant pots. 

Tbilisi Pride leader Giorgi Tabagari called the attack on the building “a major state failure.” Protestors also stormed the offices of the liberal activist group, the Shame Movement. 

Throughout the day, Pride organisers tried to change the starting point of the march but, each time, far-right opposition pre-empted them.

At 2pm, social media footage showed an anti-Pride protestor had driven a scooter into a group of journalists outside of Parliament. Another journalist was attacked by a golf club. Fifty minutes later, Pride was cancelled – but the violence did not end there. 

By 3.15pm, RFE/RL reported that at least 15 journalists had been attacked, prompting the Interior Ministry to launch an investigation. Earlier in the day, Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria had criticised the Prime Minister for “escalating the situation”, causing the attacks on journalists.

The heads of TV Pirveli, TV Mtavari, and Formula also accused the Government of failing to protect journalists, as eyewitnesses posted pictures that showed a lack of police intervention against the far-right, anti-LGBTIQ protestors. 

Tweeting from Tbilisi, reporter and photojournalist Mariam Nikuradze wrote: “I’m witnessing a manhunt on journalists. It’s brutal. They are ready to murder. I see maybe 30 police officers. Where is the riot police that was water-canoning 10 people at the Parliament these past years.”

Nikuradze also tweeted an image of a journalist who was having surgery for a broken nose. “This day will stay in history as a day of hunting journalists and a state that failed to protect us,” Nikuradze added.

By the end of the day, eight people had been arrested, with 55 incidents of violence recorded. The vast majority of victims, 53, were journalists. An investigation has also been launched into allegations an explosive device was used near an NGO office.

However, there is little trust from the Pride organisers that the Government and police will effectively act against those spreading hate. 

In a statement, the organisers wrote that they did not expect the Ministry of Internal Affairs to “adequately perform [its] duty as we see they don’t respond to the violence in front of their eyes.” It added that the “huge wave of hate we’re watching right now is inspired and supported by the Government”.


Growing Far-Right Threat to Free Speech

The violence on Tbilisi’s streets against journalists forms a growing pattern of attacks against the media – which spans the shooting at the US newspaper Capital Gazette, the arrests and alleged torture of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, and the threats made against Northern Ireland reporter Patricia Devlin. 

Attacking journalists has become a key weapon of the far-right in recent years, encouraged by authoritarian populist leaders such as Donald Trump railing against the “fake news media”.

Here in the UK, politicians and prominent figures have incited ‘pile-ons’ and threats against journalists including Nadine White and Carole Cadwalladr. The pattern of behaviour also includes James Goddard’s abuse of Independent journalist Lizzie Dearden; far-right actors assaulting the Guardian’s Owen Jones; and Amy Fenton, former chief reporter at the Mail in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, facing threats of violence over her coverage of trumped-up grooming allegations in the town. 

At the anti-Black Lives Matter protests in London last year, the Telegraph’s Ed Clowes tweeted that he had “never seen a protest so hostile to the press”. Reporting from a counter-BLM rally in Leeds, journalist Ben Abbiss was threatened and had beer poured over him. At the anti-prorogation of Parliament protests in 2019, journalists were verbally threatened by far-right marchers, leading to attendees being kettled as it was unsafe to leave Whitehall.

The anti-racist organisation Hope Not Hate’s 2021 report, State Of Hate, found that “journalists are being increasingly targeted for violence and harassment by the far-right”.

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