Georgian cameraman’s death stokes anger over attack on Pride parade

Government accused of failing to stop violence and shielding far-right mob

People take part in a funeral ceremony of the Georgian cameraman Lekso Lashkarava in Tbilisi on Tuesday. Photograph: Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA

People take part in a funeral ceremony of the Georgian cameraman Lekso Lashkarava in Tbilisi on Tuesday. Photograph: Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA

 

Top Georgian officials have rejected calls to resign over the handling of an attack by a far-right mob on LGBT Pride supporters and journalists in the capital, Tbilisi, which led to the death of a cameraman and left dozens injured.

Anti-government protests are expected to resume after Tuesday’s funeral for Lekso Lashkarava, a television cameraman who was found dead at his home on Sunday, six days after he and more than 50 journalists and other media workers were injured after being set upon by anti-Pride marchers.

Mr Lashkarava suffered facial fractures in the attack and was treated at hospital before being released. Georgian police were filmed hurriedly removing his corpse from his family home after relatives refused a state autopsy, and officials said an initial examination suggested that an overdose of painkillers may have killed him.

Critics of the government accuse of it trying to shift the blame for his death away from the nationalists and Orthodox Church figures who led the violent protests against the Pride parade, which organisers cancelled after their office was ransacked.

Anti-government demonstrations in recent days have demanded the resignation of prime minister Irakli Garibashvili and interior minister Vakhtang Gomelauri, who is blamed by many for the police’s failure to prevent the violence.

Mr Garibashvili urged the Pride organisers to call off the “provocative” event and subsequently – while condemning the bloodshed – claimed that 95 per cent of Georgians were opposed to a “propagandistic” parade that he said was backed by “radical” political forces intent on undermining the government.

Political boycott

The events threaten to pitch Georgia back into another political crisis just weeks after EU mediation helped to end a stand-off in which the country’s biggest opposition party boycotted parliament for seven months.

The violence and official reaction to the unrest also threaten to tarnish the reputation of a country that seeks eventual EU membership, but that faces scrutiny over the governing Georgian Dream party’s accumulation of power and its attitude towards the rule of law.

Ireland joined the US, Germany, France, Britain and several other western states in condemning the July 5th attack.

“Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” the countries said in a statement.

“We call on all Georgia’s leaders and law enforcement to act swiftly to protect those exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly, to protect journalists exercising freedom of the press, and to publicly condemn violence.”

Media watchdog Reporters without Borders said the death of Mr Lashkarava “marks a disastrous turning point for the freedom to inform in Georgia”.

“Officials’ passivity in the face of this extreme attempt at intimidation of journalists by homophobic movements erodes the credibility of the government ... which must accept its share of responsibility in the matter,” said Jeanne Cavalier, head of RSF’s eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.