Ilia Chachibaia, An Independent Journalist In Georgia, Political Refugee In His Own Country

Ilia Chachibaia, an independent journalist based in Zugdidi, Georgia and the head of the regional branch of Egalitarian Institute was forced to flee his hometown by the local government officials.

[19:32 12.02.2008]

Ilia Chachibaia was expressing different political positions and organizing anti-government peaceful demonstrations in downtown Zugdidiin front of administrative buildings in the run-up to snap presidential elections in Georgia on January 5. Namely, on December29, 2007 Ilia along with fellow supporters was conducting a peacefulrally in front of the regional prosecutor's office, urging authoritiesto not falsify presidential elections as well as to punish criminals who committed murders of local residents-about five publicly advertised cases in the region; the rally was also joined by the family members of the murdered citizens. This demand was included in the rally because these criminals have not been punished to date as they have close ties with Roland Akhalaia, the regional prosecutor, whose punishment was demanded by rally participants.

Another rally, a peaceful walk in the downtown under the auspices of Egalitarian Institute and led by Ilia Chachibaia was conducted just a couple of days before the presidential elections after the December 29 rally. The demonstrators held banners reading "Roland Akhalaia, Murderer, Go to Prison," the same banner for Zaza Gorozia-the president-appointed governor in the region. Mr. Gorozia, the governor, personally offered Ilia Chachibaia 10,000 lari (about 6,000USD) in hiscar in front of the Governor's administrative building in Zugdidi for his silence in November 2007, a period of the heated pre-election campaign in Georgia; Mr. Gorozia contacted Ilia through a colleague of his to arrange this meeting. Further to this, Ilia was continuously getting threatening phone calls apparently (as discerned from the voice of the caller) from one of the heads of the ConstitutionalSecurity Department under the Ministry of Interior, Vakho Gabelia; the atest phone call, just a couple of weeks ago, contained a message that if Ilia does not stop his activities, he will disseminate stickers all around Zugdidi depicting Ilia nude offering escort service.

Three days after the presidential elections, as Ilia was exiting his apartment, he found the entrance of his residential building populated with numerous stickers containing a concocted image of Ilia's face merged with the body of some prostitute with the text reading "escort service at discount," "please call" and Ilia's personal phone number appeared. Once he was walking toward the downtown Ilia found these stickers with his embarrassing images put up all over the downtown buildings and lampposts. Naturally, he was shocked and greatly embarrassed, considering that his hometown, Zugdidi, is a small town where everyone knows everyone.

Ilia called the head of the Patrol Police, Maizer Liparteliani, and asked him for help to identify and catch those who've been doing this to him, but in vain. The head of the police sided with the local officials and urged Ilia to stop expressing his political beliefs; obviously, he took no action. After this, Ilia was still getting threatening phone calls from disclosed numbers on his cell phone, in which callers (Ilia suspects those from the group of aforementioned Vaho Gabelia) were threatening with a murder. In addition, when Ilia was walking home or to the office he was accompanied by slowly moving vehicles from which people would video tape Ilia as part of their threatening campaign of psychological pressure and shouting to him to flee his home town, Zugdidi. Ultimately, they achieved their goals. Ilia left Zugdidi for Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and his journal is temporarily shut down.

To this end, members of Egalitarian Institute had a meeting with Assistant to Chairperson of Georgian Parliament, Nino Burjanadze, on February 8 to deliver the message that Ilia needs security guarantees from the central government before he can return to his hometown to continue his civic and journalistic activities.

Ilia is a political refugee in his home country because he is openly expressing his political beliefs and wanted to appeal to the international community to help protect his rights.