Protests Continue to Fill Tbilisi Streets after Cameraman Found Dead
Activists rally outside the Georgian Parliament building and demand Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili's resignation over TV Pirveli journalist Lekso Lashkarava's death. Image: David Mdzinarishvili/TASS.
TV Pirveli cameraman Aleksandre (Lekso) Lashkarava, who was physically assaulted by homophobic far-right protestors during anti-Pride demonstrations in Tbilisi on July 5, was found dead in his apartment four days later, on July 11, by his mother.
Police reported that they launched a probe into the death of the cameraman under Article 115 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, involving incitement to suicide. An exact cause of death has yet to be established. TV Pirveli has chosen Alexandre Gejadze as an independent expert to represent the media outlet's position during forensics investigations. The non-governmental organization (NGO), Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), will defend the rights of Lashkarava's family.
TV Pirveli reported that Lashkarava's mother refused to allow state forensic officials access to her son's body. However, his body was transferred to Samkharauli Forensics without her consent. Video footage clearly shows Georgian police rushing Lashkarava's body out of his upstairs apartment. "I was an expert for forty years myself…I know how it happens at the forensic examination," his mother said. The family blames the government for failing to protect Lashkarava and dozens of journalists like him during the July 5 anti-Pride rally.
Lashkarava was assaulted by a mob of protestors while covering the far-right's assault on the Shame Movement office. The Shame Movement is a Tbilisi activist group that helped to organize the Pride march. While Eurasianet reports that twenty men beat Lashkarava for as long as twenty minutes before the police intervened, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) states that only four people have been detained in connection with the violence.
Lashkarava reportedly sustained various injuries, including a concussion, facial bone fractures, and multiple contusions. He underwent surgery at a hospital but was later discharged to continue his treatment and recovery at home.
Prime Minister Garibashvili and President Zourabichvili have offered condolences to Lashkarava's family and called for justice to be levied against those responsible for this tragedy. On July 12, Garibashvili emphasized again that the July 5-6 incidents were part of a growing anti-state, anti-Church conspiracy. Many journalists have expressed concern about the Georgian Orthodox Church's outsized influence on Georgian cultural issues and public policy. Garibashvili added that when 95% of the population opposes Pride, the government has a responsibility to listen to them.
At the MIA briefing, it was confirmed that the investigation into Lashkarava's death is ongoing. However, before any medical autopsy had been concluded, the government also hinted that Lashkarava might have died of a drug overdose. Allegedly, Lashkavara had visited the Ponichala district in Tbilisi, which is considered by many to be a black market space for illicit narcotics. The next day the MIA held a second briefing and provided video materials that allegedly show Lashkarava acting under the influence of drugs.
Additionally, the law enforcement agency stated that they are ready to engage in an international examination of samples obtained through the autopsy to conclusively prove or refute the claims of Lashkavara's drug abuse.
Media Rally for Government Resignation
A rally was announced that same day, June 11, in front of the Parliament of Georgia at 6 pm with chants that the "murderous government must resign" due to its perceived connection with Lashkavara's death.
Citizens follow the coffin of TV Pirveli journalist Lekso Lashkarava injured in the July 5 anti-LGBT violence. Hardline conservative activists gathered on Rustaveli Avenue to confront participants in an authorized LGBT peace march, causing the event to rapidly escalate into violent clashes and result in some 50 journalists sustaining severe injuries, including Lashkarava. Later on, he was found dead at home several days since his release from hospital. Image: David Mdzinarishvili/TASS.
The organizers of the rally demanded certain stipulations be implemented by noon on July 12. The demands included the resignation of Gharibashvili's government and the arrest and punishment of all perpetrators involved in the assault against Lekso Lashkarava.
Nika Melia, Chairman of the main opposition party (the United National Movement), called for the government's resignation. He said that there is "not much to discuss. The violent group named itself not the death squad or the perpetrator, but the Georgian Dream" (the name of Gharibashvili's political party). "Therefore," he continues, "there is only one way out. The whole government must resign."
A group of 19 NGOs have released a signed statement regarding Lashkarava's death. They demand that both Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili and the Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia, Vakhtang Gomelauri, resign immediately. In addition, the NGOs demanded that all organizers, participants, and violent instigators, regardless of their political status, be brought to justice.
Public Defender Nino Lomjaria spoke about the responsibilities of Government and law enforcement. "First of all, I hold both politicians and law enforcement agencies responsible. They have very openly said and called on the supporters that the enemies are those who are different from them and that they are obliged to oppress those who are different from them."
Governmental and opposition media outlets also published a joint statement demanding that the government immediately investigate the violence against journalists.
Since the government of Georgia did not meet the demonstrators' demands, another rally was held on July 12. The demonstrators gathered in front of the parliament and ended the protest at the Georgian Dream Party's headquarters. The police detained twelve demonstrators. On July 13, Lekso Lashkarava was buried following a mass procession of his colleagues within Georgian media.
Significant international pressure has been levied against the Georgian government. Reuters reported that Ned Price, State Department Spokesperson in Washington, released a statement decrying the violence. "The safety of every Georgian journalist, and the credibility of democracy and Georgia, in fact, require that every individual who attacked peaceful protesters, and journalists on July 5 and 6, or those who incited violence, they must be identified, they should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
TV Pirveli's anchor Inga Grigolia addressed the government: "Today is a mourning day, we will not hold a protest rally, but tomorrow you'll see what angry oppositional media can do. A war against the government starts tomorrow!" TV Pirveli and some other oppositional media outlets planned to move their studios in front of the parliament to feature a continuous live broadcast of the uncertain, ongoing incident.
On June 14, four opposition TV channels went off the air for 24 hours. The channels have chosen to continuously display the names of journalists injured on the day the LGBT campaign office was attacked.
The demands remain unchanged. The demonstrators, along with TV Pirveli, Mtavari Arkhi, Formula and Kavkasia channels, called for Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili's resignation and punishment of those responsible.