August 7, 2015 / 5:00 PM / 4 years ago

Court in Georgia orders freeze on independent TV's assets

TBILISI, Aug 7 (Reuters) - A court in the Georgian capital Tbilisi ordered a freeze on property owned by the country’s biggest independent TV company, Rustavi 2, in a move critics said was a blow to a free media.

The ruling, announced by the company on Friday, is an interim measure until the court’s final verdict on an ownership dispute. Rustavi 2’s former co-owner Kibar Khalvashi is seeking to claim back his shares in one of the most popular independent broadcasters in the former Soviet country.

The court decision, which prevents Rustavi 2 from selling or renting out movable property, stops short of freezing the TV company’s bank accounts.

The company’s management say that Khalvashi’s lawsuit is a politically motivated attack on a broadcaster that has been critical of the government in the past.

“This court order shows that it is clearly politicised and has nothing to do with property rights,” Nika Gvaramia, Rustavi 2 TV’s general director, said in a televised statement. The company would appeal the decision in a higher court, he said.

Khalvashi, who lives abroad, did not make any statement and was not reachable for comment.

Opposition politicians accused the government of being behind Khalvashi’s bid.

“The government has waged a battle against Rustavi 2 and free media ... This is a challenge for the entire society and the campaign against Rustavi 2 TV will have the boomerang effect and grave consequences for the government,” David Bakradze, an opposition MP, said.

Government officials have often accused Rustavi 2 of bias, but deny any involvement in this case.

“As far as this specific dispute is concerned, I cannot comment on that other than to note that as a citizen and as a prime minister, I am always in favour of restoration of justice, but this is a dispute between two entities and the court will decide and government’s involvement in this is equal to zero,” Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili told reporters. (Editing by Digby Lidstone)

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