TBILISI -- Noted Georgian opposition journalist Nika Gvaramia has been sentenced to a lengthy prison term on corruption charges that he and his supporters reject as politically motivated.
The Tbilisi City Court sentenced the 45-year-old journalist and lawyer to 3 1/2 years in prison on May 16, after finding him guilty of abuse of power related to his activities as director general of the Rustavi 2 television channel in 2019.
Judge Lasha Chkhikvadze also found Gvaramia guilty of embezzlement and ordered him to pay a 50,000 laris ($16,300) fine on that charge.
Gvaramia, however, was acquitted on charges of money laundering, bribery, and forgery.
"Good job!" Gvaramia shouted out in the courtroom in reaction to the judge's ruling.
The court found Gvaramia's co-defendant Kakhaber Damenia, former financial director of the Rustavi 2 television channel, guilty of embezzlement and ordered him to pay a 50,000 laris fine as well. Another co-defendant, the director of the Inter Media Plus news agency, Zurab Lashvili, was acquitted of all charges.
Gvaramia left Rustavi 2 in 2019 after the European Court of Human Rights upheld a verdict by Georgia's Supreme Court on restoring the ownership of the country's then main opposition channel to its previous owner, Kibar Khalvashi, who was seen as close to the government.
Transparency International-Georgia condemned Gvaramia's conviction, calling it a case of retaliation by the authorities for his journalistic activities.
"Based on the case study and observation of the process, we can conclude that the case is politically motivated with the aim of punishing Nika Gvaramia and disrupting the activities of his TV channel as it was critical of the authorities." Transparency International-Georgia said.
"The use of the justice system for media censorship and intimidation is a dangerous message for other critical media outlets as well."
"At the same time, this verdict is a continuation of the political persecution that has been carried out against the state opponents for years," Transparency International-Georgia concluded.
Georgia ranked 89th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders 2022 World Press Freedom Index. In 2019 it ranked 60th.