(Civil.Ge) — The Georgian chief prosecutor’s office said on Monday that it impounded on July 22 “thousands” of Maestro TV’s newly imported satellite dish antennas as part of its ongoing vote-buying investigation.
About 10,000 satellite dishes, imported by Maestro TV for handing out in provinces as part of its campaign to broaden scope of its viewers, were impounded earlier this month after the chief prosecutor’s office said it had “sufficient evidence” to prove that Maestro TV was in “sham deal” with companies affiliated to Georgian Dream opposition coalition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili. The chief prosecutor’s office claimed that Maestro TV was acting on behalf of Ivanishvili-affiliated companies with a purpose to hand out satellite dishes as part of “vote-buying”.
“Despite these measures [impounding of satellite dishes earlier this month] carried out with a purpose to prevent committing of crime, Maestro TV again tried to import new shipments of satellite dishes and receivers on July 22 through sham deal,” the chief prosecutor’s office said in a statement on July 23.
Ilia (Bacho) Kikabidze, general director of the Maestro TV, said on July 24, that three trucks, loaded with satellite dish antennas and receivers, were seized in this recent action by the chief prosecutor’s office.
Maestro TV has strongly denied links with Ivanishvili or with his companies. A group of media organizations have launched a campaign, calling on the authorities to return impounded satellite antennas, condemning seizure of the property as the authorities’ attempt to hinder public’s access to diverse source of information.
“We deem it as an action against freedom of media… We will continue our protest and efforts unless the property is returned to Maestro TV,” Lasha Tugushi, an editor-in-chief of daily Rezonansi, said on Tuesday and added that a protest rally would be held on July 25 with a demand “to return illegally seized satellite dishes” to Maestro TV.
“This is not a problem of only Maestro TV; this is a problem for all those media outlets, which are not controlled by the government, and it is a problem for society. This is authorities’ campaign against satellite dishes. Protest against authorities’ actions should not stop… We will continue our protest, including through informing about the situation international community,” Nino Jangirashvili, owner of Kavkasia TV station, said on July 24.
“A huge financial damage has been inflicted to Maestro TV and we will also seek its compensation through court action,” said Bacho Kikabidze, general director of the Maestro TV.