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4 Sep, 2009 13:33

Georgian journalist seeks asylum

A Georgian opposition journalist with his family has crossed the border with South Ossetia and asked for political asylum.

Levan Gudadze fled from Georgian on Thursday, according to South Ossetian Foreign Minister Murat Dzhioev. He said he feared persecution from Georgian authorities over his criticism of the government.

Together with his mother, wife and two-year-old daughter, Gudadze went into South Ossetian territory near the border village of Artzev.

His request for political asylum is now being considered, according to the minister.

The journalist’s mother, Roza Bichikashvili, said he was threatened over his reports.

“Levan had three Tbilisi-based news websites, and they were shot down by the authorities one by one. He was called on the phone, sent threatening letters, so we decided to leave the country,” RIA Novosti news agency cites her as saying.

Gudadze and his family are now in South Ossetian capital Tskhinval.

But military commentator Viktor Litovkin doubts the journalist will be staying in South Ossetia for long.

“I don’t think that he really wants to get asylum in South Ossetia. What kind of work can a journalist do there? He may seek political asylum in Russia or move even further to a European country. Everything will depend on what he really wants. No one is going to put up any barriers to him as long as he's not linked to the Georgian security services,” says Litovkin.

RT's political commentator Peter Lavelle believes the journalist's story shows the real state of affairs concerning freedom of speech in Georgia.

“This is good and still another example of how unfree the media is in Georgia under Mr. Saakashvili. We have websites being shut down, we have people intimidated. There is virtually no independent media now in Georgia. And the West likes to ignore it because Mr. Saakashvili is their puppet in the Caucasus,” says Lavelle. “But it shows how civil society is deteriorating very much in Georgia, where there is very little respect for the authority right now and how it controls the country.”

A South Ossetian human rights officer says it’s not the first time that Georgian citizens have sought a better life in the neighboring republic.

“Incidents like this have become more frequent lately,” said David Sanakoev, a South Ossetian human rights officer. “Many Georgian citizens are seeking ways to leave the country because of the tense situation in Georgia and the impossibility of continuing to live there.”