November 30, 2022 Tbilisi Court of Appeals judges Gotcha Jeiranashvili, Lasha Tavartkiladze and Otar Sichinava (chairperson) did not satisfy the appeal of LLC "Formula", LLC "Mtavari Arkhi" and Mr. Levan Khabeishvili to overrule the decision of the Tbilisi City Court.
The appeal concerns a case about the April 29, 2022 decision of the Tbilisi City Court that satisfied Grigol Liluashvili’s claim against LLC " Formula", LLC " Mtavari Arkhi" and Mr. Levan Khabeishvili. Namely, On TV Formula and on Mtavari Arkhi (TV Mtavari), statements were made about the criminal schemes of the so-called “call centers.” It was said that the State Security Service and its head, Mr. Liluashvili may have been linked to them. He disputed these statements and filed a claim at the court. The judge, sided with the plaintiff, established defamation and ordered the defendants to repel these statements via same media channels and compensate him for moral damages.
The media representatives were asking the Tbilisi Court of Appeals to overrule the April 29, 2022 decision and issue a new judgment, and to annul of the order by which Tbilisi City Court had refused to drop the case altogether.
In their application to the Court of Appeals, the media representatives argued that the first instance court assessment to equate statements with facts was wrong, since these statements were journalist’s opinions and conclusions, were based on enough factual circumstances and that it is unacceptable to impose civil legal responsibilities for them.
Regrettably, the court again, did not consider the arguments of the media representatives and left the first instance court decision intact.
Similar key problems were revealed during the trial both, in the City Court and in the Tbilisi Court of Appeals, which shows that a similar trend is being formed by national courts in relation to defamation cases, namely:
Even in the Court of Appeal, the judges showed special interest in the complaint filed against the head of the Security Service. Here too, contrary to the established practice, the case was considered extraordinarily quickly, within a tight time frame;
Once again, the court did not consider that we do not have a single prerequisite provided by the legislation of Georgia, which would recognize the statement as defamatory. Among them, the damage allegedly caused to Grigol Liluashvili by the widespread statements is not confirmed. It was not proved that the defendants acted with obvious and gross negligence. The court still found the fact of defamation;
The claimant’s position was based on manipulative interpretations of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and national courts, which was an attempt to mislead the court, and the court shared them;
The court did not consider the threats posed by such a decision. Among them, the court failed to notice that the lawsuit was brought forward by the head of the State Secret Service, who has higher requirements to tolerate nuisances such as critical opinions aired by the media.
Critical statements made in the media are frequently used as the basis for litigation, especially at the initiative of the authorities. This is another case in a chain of abusing litigation mechanisms aimed at silencing journalists and media organizations. It is an illegal restriction of the freedom of speech and expression (so-called SLAPP lawsuits) via intimidation. Given the tendency of baseless lawsuits by government officials, the decision continues a worrisome precedent, as there is now an increased expectation that freedom of speech and expression will remain the object of litigation.
LTD Formula is represented by the GDI. The GDI is able to provide legal aid with the support from the USAID’s Rule of Law Program.