Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Caucasus: Mar ‘08

Report on IWPR-sponsored Georgian radio show sheds light on community justice.
A Georgian journalist working on Accent, a local radio magazine programme produced by IWPR, played a unique role in facilitating local justice when he was asked to give a voice to a community in the mountainous north of Georgia which was in dispute with the police.

The reporter, Roman Kevkhishvili, recalled how he received a phone call out of the blue from representatives of the Kist ethnic minority in Duisi, a village in the Pankisi Gorge.

“The Pankisi Gorge is far from safe in terms of the crime situation, but I was overwhelmed by curiosity so I went to Duisi,” he said. “I was immediately taken to a meeting of the local elders. They were discussing a case involving two of the community’s members – Gia Khangoshvili, who had been accused of robbing Dutch journalists who had come to Pankisi last month to film a documentary; and the man who testified against him, Guram Margoshvili.”

Kevkhishvili was surprised to be invited along as an outsider to observe such a delicate internal affair being dealt with in traditional fashion within the Kist community.

“Feuds between families are common in the Pankisi Gorge. I thought it was strange that the community elders did not mind giving their judgement in the presence of a journalist,” he said.

The Kists had brought him in the hope that his reporting would highlight their concerns about Khangoshvili’s arrest, concerns which they felt had been ignored by the police.

“Later on, the locals explained how they had come to take an interest in the radio magazine, saying, ‘No one ever reads newspapers in Pankisi; if we were shown on television we’d be recognised, whereas on the radio, we won’t be seen but our voices will be heard,’” he said.

“The meeting of elders strongly resembled a trial. After a protracted discussion, the honorable panel declared Guram Margoshvili guilty. They cleared Gia Khangoshvili… of all charges, justifying their decision with the fact that he had sworn an oath on the Koran.”

The Kist elders went on to deliver a warning to the authorities, “If they do not release the innocent man, we will punish the one who informed on him, according to our community’s laws – we won’t let him live!”

The reporter Kevkhishvili took his recordings to the authorities to show them just how high feeling was running in the Kist community – and he got a result.

“I let the prosecutor of Telavi district listen to these words. He had refused to give journalists any comments on this contentious case, but he did agree to be interviewed by me,” he said.

Kevkhishvili was all too aware that much was riding on how he reported this sensitive story, “Never before had I worried so much while working on a report. I did it in a rush as I felt I bore the responsibility for a man’s life. Happily, everything turned out OK.”

In response to the Kists’ ultimatum, the police promised the elders that they would take a fresh look at the case. They also provided protective measures for their witness, Margoshvili.

Kevkhishvili’s report went out in the March 14 edition of the Accent programme.

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