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21 May, 2010 03:40

Runaway Georgian journalist runs newspaper from Russia

Malkhaz Gulashvili, a Georgian journalist who fled to Russia, says exercising freedom of speech is too dangerous in his country. He claims his family was receiving threats and his son was abducted but managed to escape.

The owner and founder of one of Georgia’s leading independent newspapers, the Georgian Times, he has been away from Georgia for more than a week.

Malkhaz Gulashvili was forced to leave Georgia for Russia after threats he and his family were receiving took a disturbing and violent turn.

“I left Georgia because they threatened to rape my 17-year-old son,” Malkhaz Gulashvili says. “They tried to arrest me several times. Pretty soon there’ll be no one but the government left in the country because people are running away from Georgia.”

Allegations of corruption, reports of police brutality – these topics are covered by dozens of independent news sources in Georgia.

A most recent issue of the Georgian Times has an article on Georgia’s standing as first in the world in terms of internet piracy, a large story by one of the opposition leaders on political prisoners – a fact that’s still flatly denied by the Georgian government, and a column about misuse of public funds by the government.

And, as Malkhaz Gulashvili’s wife and newspaper publisher Nana Gagua says, the Georgian Times never shied away from covering controversial topics.

“It’s not interesting when the newspaper only prints the good facts. Our readers came to depend on us over the years for publishing the bad facts, too,” she says.

Nana Kakabadze, a lawyer and a human rights activist, says many journalists were forced to flee the country after being threatened.

“Today, freedom of speech is allowed but only within strict boundaries. As soon as someone crosses those boundaries, they create problems for the government – and the government can be very cruel to them,” Nana Kakabadze says.

He may be known as a staunch Christian to some, and as a brave journalist to others, but for his wife Malkhaz is, first and foremost, an ideal Georgian man who keeps the newspaper going even while being away from the country.

“He’s like a rock – for both the newspaper and for me,” says Nana Gagua. “A lot of people say he ran away. I’m sorry, but that’s not the case. He left for a while. He’s getting done a lot more while being away, rather than just sitting here, trying to prove his point.”