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EMC responds to the dismissal of the Chairman of the Trade Union from the Adjara Broadcasting Service

EMC responds to the dismissal of Malkhaz Rekhviashvili, Chairman of the Alternative Trade Union from the Adjara Public Broadcasting Service and the presenter of the talk show H-tag, and determines that this decision made by the new management of the Broadcasting Service is a continuation of the process of the persecution of critical thinking, of the weakening of the Alternative Trade Union and of the disintegration of the independence of the Broadcasting Service that is already taking an alarming turn.

The director of the Adjara Public Broadcasting Service decided to dismiss the chairman of the Trade Union, Malkhaz Rekhviashvili, in response to his public post published on the social network. In particular, in a Facebook post published on April 21, 2020, Malkhaz Rekhviashvili responded to the director's unjust and groundless disciplinary persecution of Teona Turmanidze, a reporter for the Broadcasting News Service and an active member of the Alternative Trade Union. The director of the Broadcasting Service also removed Teona Turmanidze from the air due to the public post she had published on the social network, and Malkhaz Rekhviashvili, together with Teona Turmanidze, expressed his opinion that the disciplinary action against Teona Turmanidze was carried out on the basis of the director’s order, which establishes new rules of conduct for the employees of the broadcasting service and imposes arbitrary and disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression. The broadcasting director denied that the new order was used against Teona Turmanidze, and at first requested that Malkhaz Rekhviashvili publically deny his own status update on Facebook. Later, however, he decided to dismiss him from his position, claiming that the action taken by Rekhviashvili disseminated information containing false accusations and would damage the reputation of the broadcasting service.

The order of the Adjara Public Broadcasting service regarding the dismissal of the chairman of the Trade Union cannot withstand criticism and it is not only a gross violation of labor legislation, but it is also an obvious and dangerous illustration of the violation of freedom of speech and expression as well as the persecution and harassment of the members of the Trade Union.

The status update published by Malkhaz Rekhviashvili can hardly be considered as slander, because its content expresses the author's opinion and it does not refer to a substantially false fact. Considering the fact that the status update refers to the ongoing processes to which the public's attention is greatly drawn, and that the Chairman of the Trade Union has a duty to respond to instances of the violation of labor rights of the members of the Union, his expressed view lays within the limits of the sphere protected by freedom of expression and represents an absolutely unassailable right of the author. It should also be noted that the accusation of the director of the broadcasting service regarding defamation is unsupported, as long as the damage inflicted to the broadcasting service is not evidenced. According to the practice established by the national courts, in order to establish defamation the initiator of the restriction of freedom of expression must prove not only the disinformation, but also the specific damage, which is not obvious in this case.

It is clear that the disciplinary proceedings against the Chairman of the Trade Union also demonstrate an arbitrary and unsubstantiated decision by the director of the Broadcasting Service in terms of labor legislation. The development of events during the case show that the management of the broadcasting service did not follow the necessary procedures provided by law, and even if there was a violation, the penalty - dismissal - does not meet the principle of proportionality.

Moreover, the harassment of journalists not only indicates the illegal intervention of the director of the Broadcasting Service, Giorgi Kokhreidze, in labor relations, but also contravenes Article 156 of the Criminal (Prosecution) Code, since it is obvious that the director of the Broadcasting Service keeps dismissing without sufficient reason, or arbitrarily charges only those employees who are critical towards him. It is obvious that the issue of Malkhaz Rekhviashvili's illegal dismissal is also related to his position as the chairman of the Alternative Trade Union, since all the factual circumstances show that Giorgi Kokhreidze has been trying to obstruct the activities of the Trade Union in various ways since its establishment. This action, in addition to the persecution, indicates signs of a criminal act under Article 166 of the Criminal Code (for creating or obstructing a political, public or religious association). Thus, it is important that the investigative bodies should be interested in the activities of Giorgi Kokhreidze and the numerous facts of his alleged criminal act.

EMC will appeal to the court in the near future with the goal of protecting the interests of Malkhaz Rekhviashvili, as well as to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in order to launch an investigation against Giorgi Kokhreidze, and will occasionally update the public with information on the ongoing proceedings.

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