Known among his TV Pirveli colleagues as Lekso, journalist and cameraman Aleksandre Lashkarava, 37, was found dead in his apartment on July 11 in Tbilisi. Lashkarava was among some 50 journalists who sustained injuries while covering the Tbilisi Pride March on July 5. Vato Tsereteli, the owner of TV Pirveli, blamed the government for Laskharava's death.
According to local media reports, he suffered broken facial bones and a concussion during the attack. He had to undergo surgery but was discharged from a hospital on Thursday, July 8. While local police said they have launched an investigation, the Ministry of the Interior was quick to dismiss any suspicions over the cause of death, suggesting during a July 11 press conference that the journalist may have died from a drug overdose. According to Radio Tavisupleba, the Georgian Service for Radio Free Europe, the police rushed the journalist's body for an autopsy despite the family's demands to involve an independent expert.
Georgia's Interior Ministry has appeared to hint that journalist Aleksandre Lashkarava‘s death could have been drug-related. In a press conference, the ministry said he had travelled to Ponichala, an area often associated with illegal drugs, and claimed he had been intoxicated. pic.twitter.com/zacTbnsziL
— OC Media (@OCMediaorg) July 11, 2021
Founder of a political movement Droa, Helen Khoshtaria said in a tweet, the preliminary statements by the Ministry of the Interior were beyond “shameful”:
Lashkarava’s body was forcefully taken from his family for examination & 2 hours later a statement is made pointing towards overdose as his cause of death. Beyond shameful, beyond disgusting, but nothing else was to be expected. Everyone will be held accountable for this horror.
— Helen Khoshtaria (@Helenkhosh) July 11, 2021
On Sunday, July 11, thousands of Tbilisi residents gathered outside the parliament building in silent protest. At least 19 local civil society organizations signed a letter demanding Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili and Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri's resignation.
Thousands have gathered outside the Parliament of Georgia for the “Murderer government must resign” protest, in the aftermath of the death of journalist Aleksandre Lashkarava. pic.twitter.com/lAPK9JmqS8
— Civil.ge (@CivilGe) July 11, 2021
#Georgia 🇬🇪: 19 civil society organizations have written a joint statement in response to the death of Aleksandre Lashkarava. They call on PM Irakli Garibashvili to resign immediately https://t.co/aCmd8eJguA
— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) July 11, 2021
Following the violence on July 5, the PM blamed the organizers of the Tbilisi Pride March for the ongoing violence. Speaking at a government meeting, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said, it was “unreasonable” for the organizers to march in a public space which could trigger “civil confrontation” at a time when the majority of the population finds LGBTQ identities “unacceptable.”
In Batumi, another city in Georgia, protesters clashed with the police according to reporting by OC Media.
The response and reactions from international organizations were swift.
We are shaken by the tragic death of @TvPirveli journalist that followed violent events in Tbilisi on 5 July. Media freedom & safety of journalists are democratic values that must be protected.
We offer deepest condolences to Aleksandre Lashkarava's family, friends & colleagues.
— UNDP in Georgia 🇬🇪 (@UNDPGeorgia) July 11, 2021
🇸🇪 fully supports statement by @CarlHartzellEU. We offer deepest condolences to @TvPirveli journalist’s Aleksandre Lashkarava's family, Friends & colleagues. 🇸🇪 condemns any kind of violence. Media freedom & safety of journalists are democratic values that must be protected. pic.twitter.com/MdelK87rqg
— Sweden in Georgia (@SwedeninGE) July 11, 2021
Media Development Foundation expresses its deep grief over the death of Aleksandre Lashkarava, the cameraman of @TvPirveli, who was physically assaulted by a far-right mob in Tbilisi on July 5. pic.twitter.com/dl3FIYKPXX
— Media Development Foundation (MDF) (@mdfgeo) July 11, 2021
Around 70 Georgian media organizations, including Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), appealed to the international community saying, “despite the preliminary calls from the civil sector, the state has not taken appropriate measures to protect the media representatives. Insufficient police forces did not take measures to protect the journalists.”
According to OC Media, several media organizations, including the Shame Movement, whose office was also ransacked during July 5 Pride protests have vowed to renew their protests on Monday, July 12 unless their demands for resignations are met.