February 19, 2017 / 4:59 PM / 2 years ago

Georgians rally for 'fair justice' in broadcaster's court battle

Nika Gvaramia, chief executive officer of Rustavi 2, speaks during a rally to support opposition TV channel Rustavi 2 in Tbilisi, Georgia February 19, 2017. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

TBILISI (Reuters) - Thousands of Georgians rallied on Sunday in the capital Tbilisi in support of the country’s biggest independent television station Rustavi 2, which is fighting court battles over its ownership.

In 2015, a court found in favor of former co-owner Kibar Khalvashi and ordered the seizure of Rustavi 2’s property in August 2015 and later the seizure of shares in the company that owns Rustavi 2, which government officials have accused of bias.

Khalvashi says he was forced to give up his shares under the government of former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who lost an election in 2012, and he wants them back.

Rustavi 2 has fought the case, which is now before the Supreme Court.

Opposition politicians and many independent experts say the case is an attempt to silence independent media in the country of 3.7 million.

Government officials have denied involvement in the case.

“Today we should stay together to tell the government that they can never touch freedom of speech in this country,” Zaal Udumashvili, the broadcaster’s deputy director, told the crowd in front of the parliament building in central Tbilisi.

The broadcaster went off air late on Friday until the rally, which it called to demand “fair” justice in the ownership dispute.

“I came here to support Rustavi 2 and to support freedom of speech,” protester Nely Abashidze told Reuters. “We want to demonstrate to this government that they can’t silence us.”

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; editing by Susan Thomas

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