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Georgia Foils Plot to Assassinate Journalist

FILE - Editors of Rustavi 2 work in the television channel's headquarters in Tbilisi, March 12, 2012. A reported plot to assassinate journalist Giorgi Gabunia for comments he made while working for Rustavi 2 was foiled earlier this month.

Georgia's security services have foiled a plot to assassinate television journalist Giorgi Gabunia, which, according to allegations by a local TV director, was ordered by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Counterterrorism officials arrested Russian citizen Vasambek Bokov in Tbilisi on June 12 as part of a probe that officials described as "preparation of murder by contract." Bokov, who hails from Ingushetia, a republic in Russia's restive North Caucasus, was arrested on charges of using forged documents.

FILE - Chechnya regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov speaks during a news conference in Grozny, March 7, 2011.
FILE - Chechnya regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov speaks during a news conference in Grozny, March 7, 2011.

Nika Gvaramia, director of TV Mtavari, the station where Gabunia works, alleged at a press conference in Tbilisi on Monday that Kadyrov had ordered the killing over comments Gabunia made about Russian President Vladimir Putin, while working for a different broadcaster last year.

At the time, Kadyrov said he would "punish" Gabunia after the journalist used foul language to describe Putin during a live broadcast of "Postscript," a show he anchored for Rustavi 2.

Rustavi 2 suspended Gabunia for two months after the outburst.

Kadyrov has denied ordering the killing, writing in a Telegram post in Russian: "Trust me, if someone is acting on my orders, he will carry them out."

Georgia Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia confirmed on Tuesday that the security service had "foiled a very serious crime." He did not refer to the allegations against Kadyrov.

Gabunia said he was not aware of a plot against him. He said that he knew he was under surveillance and that TV Mtavari's head had hired a bodyguard after Kadyrov "threatened him openly last year."

In a statement on the arrest, Georgia's Service for State Security did not mention the journalist or provide further details about the alleged assassination plot. It said the investigation was ongoing and called on individuals to "refrain from disseminating any clarified or unclarified information" to prevent the spread of "fake information."

The Media Advocacy Coalition, comprising more than a dozen civil society outfits, called on authorities to ensure the safety of journalists, and to provide timely information about the investigation.

Rights groups have long accused Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya since 2007, of repressive measures to create a climate of fear for journalists and political opponents.

This story originated in VOA's Georgia service.