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The posters put up in Tamar's office building Tamar Kintsurashvili
myth detector

Georgian journalist targeted by masked men told she faces 'revenge' unless she stops working

Tamar Kintsurashvili spoke to The Journal about how the ‘foreign agent’ law in Georgia, though not yet implemented, is already having an effect.

A GEORGIAN JOURNALIST has said she and her colleagues are being threatened over their fact-checking work as mass protests take place across the country.

Even though the controversial ‘foreign agents’ law has yet to come into effect in Georgia, Tamar Kintsurashvili said “it looks like the government has already started its enforcement”.

Kintsurashvili is the Executive Director of Georgia’s Media Development Foundation (MDF) which oversees the Myth Detector fact-checking platform.

She and her colleagues have been told they should stop publishing their work, which exposes misinformation and propaganda, or else there will be “revenge”.

People have also called her daughter and husband, telling them they should stop her from carrying out her job.

The proposed law would require media outlets and NGOs in Georgia which receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as bodies “pursuing the interests of a foreign power”.

MDF would be one of the organisations affected by the new law if it is enacted as expected.

The legislation has sparked weeks of mass protests and international criticism.

Critics of the bill say it closely resembles legislation used by the Kremlin in Russia to silence opponents, and that it will obstruct Georgia’s bid to join the European Union.

Earlier this month Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili vetoed the Bill, saying it contradicts Georgia’s constitution and “all European standards”, adding that it “must be abolished”.

However, the country’s ruling political party, Georgian Dream, has a majority sufficient to override Zourabichvili’s veto, and is widely expected to do so in the coming days.

The Journal / YouTube

Speaking to The Journal, Kintsurashvili explained that masked men recently entered the building from which MDF carries out its work and put up posters labelling her an “executor of foreign interests” and a “grant eater”.

Footage captured on CCTV cameras shows several men enter the building at around 2am on 9 May and put up the posters.

“Strangers posted my photo with signs saying that I’m an executor of foreign interests and that there is no place for US foreign spies in Georgia,” she said.

‘Fuck your wife’

While this particular incident was concerning, Kintsurashvili said she was more affected by the fact people have called her daughter, who works for an NGO, and her husband, who works at a university, in the middle of the night asking where she is.

They called my daughter around 3am, they were asking her where me and my husband were, why we were hiding from them, saying that we should respond to their calls.

Kintsurashvili said the people who call her husband have said things like “fuck your wife” and tell him “he should stop me from doing what I’m doing”.

Kintsurashvili has worked as a journalist for years and is, sadly, no stranger to threats.

She said people previously called her office “swearing at me personally, threatening our employees, saying that they should leave office… or else there will be revenge because of our fact-checking activity”.

TK photo Tamar Kintsurashvili

When she contacted the police about these particular phone calls, she said they told her whoever made them was just using their “freedom of expression”.

“And so we do not trust in the State institutions,” she said, before adding that she will still report the more recent threats “in order to document” them.

Upcoming election

Kintsurashvili said the government is not a fan of Myth Detector in general, but seems particularly focused on shutting down their work ahead of the parliamentary election due to take place in October.

Georgian Dream has been the ruling party since 2012. The party has said it wants the country to join the EU and Nato, but it also has a close relationship with Russia.

“The government does not like our fact-checking activities because we’re not only addressing misinformation and manipulation operations stemming from Russia, but locally we also investigate coordinated, inauthentic behaviour in the government,” Kintsurashvili told us.

Myth Detector previously published an investigation which showed that civil servants in Georgia appeared to be sharing propaganda containing misinformation about NGOs and media outlets which are critical of the government “during working hours” and in a “coordinated way”.

Kintsurashvili said – because the fact-checking platform is used to stop the spread of misinformation on Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram – some people believe she is “personally responsible for anything that happens on Meta’s platform, including violation of community standards”.

“They think I am blocking their posts on Facebook, which is not true,” she added.

Kintsurashvili urged countries like Ireland to remain focused on Georgia in the coming months, saying the world needs to keep an eye on what the Georgian government is trying to do and who they are trying to silence.

Despite the threats, she and her colleagues will continue their work of holding power to account.

“It is a priority for us to stay here on the ground and find ways to stay operational,” she said.

Fact-Checking Network 

Myth Detector is a member of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), as is The Journal. The IFCN last month released a statement noting their concerns about the proposed legislation in Georgia. 

“Such laws can have significant chilling effects on independent accountability journalism, including the work of fact-checkers,” the statement noted. 

The IFCN said it is “dedicated to supporting press freedom and fact-checkers globally, including our signatories” such as Myth Detector and FactCheck Georgia.

They said these organisations “deserve to continue publishing their explanatory journalism and fact checks that hold the government, political parties and candidates accountable without threat of reprisal”.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2024 and Press Assoication 

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