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Government department threatens to blackmail journalist

(Norwegian PEN/IFEX) - Oslo, 2 December 2009 - Norwegian PEN, the Human Rights House Foundation and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee are alarmed by the information that representatives of the Special Operative Department (SOD) of Adjara Autonomous Republic within the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia have attempted to exert pressure and blackmail Tedo Jorbenadze, head of the investigative reporting team of "Batumelebi" newspaper. We call upon the Georgian authorities to promptly investigate both this and previous incidents of pressure on "Batumelebi" and to take all appropriate measures to ensure a safe and supportive environment for all journalists in Georgia.

According to information provided by the South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders and the Human Rights House Tbilisi, Tedo Jorbenadze was invited to the office of the SOD on the evening of 25 November 2009. They told him that the special services of other countries - in particular Russia and Turkey - were interested in information about the newspaper. When Jorbenadze refused to cooperate, the law enforcers threatened to blackmail him by sending compromising pictures and video materials to his relatives and co-workers and uploading them on the Internet to discredit him. It should be noted that this is not the first time journalists of "Batumelebi" have been threatened. The newspaper received written death threats in June 2008 and one journalist was detained in January 2009 after refusing to delete photos from her camera.

"Batumelebi" is a regional newspaper that has covered the Adjara region since 2001. It is well-known for its quality reporting, objectivity and professionalism, both on a national and international level. "Batumelebi" has received several international awards, including the 2008 Fritt Ord and ZEIT-Stiftung Free Press Award (Norway and Germany) and the Signal for Europe award from Reporters without Borders.

We hereby respectfully remind the government of Georgia that interference with the work of journalists is a criminal offence prohibited by the Georgian Criminal Code. Moreover, inviolability of personal life, honor and dignity is guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia and international instruments to which Georgia is a party.

We call upon the Georgian Prosecutor's Office to make certain that:
- the pressure on the employees of "Batumelebi" newspaper is immediately stopped
- the allegations of pressure on the journalist and "Batumelebi" newspaper are promptly investigated
- violators of journalistic freedom are brought to justice

Carl Morten Iversen
Secretary General
Norwegian PEN

Maria Dahle
Executive Director
Human Rights House Foundation

Bjørn Engesland
General Secretary
Norwegian Helsinki Committee

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