Georgia authorities fail to produce autopsy 5 months after journalist’s death

Georgian authorities have not produced the results of an autopsy into the death of TV Pirveli cameraman Aleksandre (Lekso) Lashkarava, who died in July after being beaten by far-right groups during a homophobic riot in Tbilisi.

Beka Takalandze, a lawyer representing Lashkarava’s family, confirmed OC Media they were still waiting for the results.

This weekend marked five months since The death of Lashkarava. He died at home on July 11 just six days after suffering multiple facial fractures and a concussion during the homophobic riot a week earlier.

The first Queer Pride march in Georgia was scheduled for July 5, but the day quickly descended into chaos as thousands of far-right counter-protesters took to the streets and attacked journalists and civil society groups. At least 53 media workers were injured in targeted attacks during the ensuing violence, with authorities criticized for their apparent inaction.

Lashkarava was among 53 journalists injured on July 5. Clockwise from top left: Dato Koridze (RFE/RL), Rati Tsverava (Formula), Tornike Mandaria (RFE/RL), Levan Bregvadze (TV Pirveli), Giorgi Nikolishvili (IPN), Ilia Tvaliashvilli (GPB ), Aleksandre Lashkarava (TV Pirveli).

[Read on OC Media: Journalists recall day of terror in Tbilisi]

The autopsy is being led by the Levan Samkharauli National Bureau of Forensic Medicine, but the family also insisted that an independent medical examiner, Aleksandre Gejadze, be involved in the process.

Gejadze said OC Media that no one from Samkharauli’s forensic office had contacted him about the autopsy for five months.

‘I have no new information. I am awaiting data from the Samkharauli Bureau,” he said.

A mob attacks journalists near the parliament building in Tbilisi on July 5. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

Jeanne Cavelier, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk of Reporters Without Borders, called the lack of progress in the investigation an “alarming situation”.

“Not only is Lashkarava’s autopsy not ready five months later, but also the investigations into the unprecedented organized violence targeting more than 50 journalists have stalled,” Cavelier said. OCMedia.

“This inefficiency of investigative services, unlike other types of cases, clearly shows a lack of political will.”

“Impunity for crimes against journalists is intolerable: freedom of the press is a pillar of democracy, it verifies the existence of all other freedoms.

“Local and international NGOs, including [Reporters Without Borders]as well as EU Member States, reacted swiftly to these brutal attacks, which represent a major setback for press freedom in Georgia.

“The Georgia Public Defender provided evidence. And the Home Secretary has promised full investigations into these attacks and Lashkavara’s death. But fewer than 30 people have been arrested for carrying the violence, none for organizing the violence, and we’re still awaiting the autopsy.

“The Georgian government’s failure to comply with its international obligations cannot remain without consequences. Authorities have a duty to protect journalists while they do their job. Once again, we urge them to face their responsibility, to carry out a thorough, impartial and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Lashkavara’s death and the attacks, and to prosecute all those responsible for the acts of violence and their organization. Cavelier added.

The government deviates

Following the July 5 violence and the death of Lashkarava, the Georgian government faced a barrage of criticism from local and international watchdogs as well as Western countries.

Despite attacks on journalists that began on the morning of July 5, the Interior Ministry did not deploy a significant police presence in the capital throughout the day. In several cases, the officers present were slow to intervene as violence erupted in front of them.

Authorities refused to remove a cross erected in front of parliament by far-right protesters on July 5. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The government has responded to the criticism by suggesting that Lashkarava’s death was due to a drug overdose, rather than the injuries he sustained.

On July 12, the director of the Interior Ministry’s Central Criminal Police Department, Mamuka Chelidze, presented an “interim report” on his death, and claims having obtained testimonies that Lashkarava and a friend bought drugs and “used drugs in a wooded area”.

Chelidze also said a toxicology report found traces of a number of drugs in Lashkarava’s system, including the painkillers morphine, codeine and gabapentin, as well as tetrahydrocannabinol, the active substance in cannabis, and monoacetylmorphine, one of the active ingredients in heroin.

The family said Lashkarava was prescribed several strong painkillers due to the injuries he suffered.

Giorgi Gogia, associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, questioned the government’s motives by releasing an interim report suggesting that Lashkarava died of an overdose after taking so long to perform a full autopsy.

“The question is, what was the purpose of the so-called ‘interim report’ released so hastily if not to sway public opinion?” Gogia said. OC Media.

“It is important that the authorities effectively investigate the exact causes of [Lashkarava’s] dead and bring all the culprits to justice,” he added.

Samkharauli National Bureau of Forensic Medicine said OC Media that the review was “almost complete” and that the results would be presented to the authorities “as soon as possible”.