US diplomats: accusations of drug overdose tactic of autocratic governments following death of TV Pirveli cameraman

  • People pay tribute to deceased TV Pirveli cameraman Lekso Lashkarava in front of the Georgian parliament. Photo: Nino Alavidze/, 16 Jul 2021 - 19:31, Tbilisi,Georgia

Former US ambassadors to Georgia William Courtney and Kenneth Ialovich have responded to the death of TV Pirveli cameraman Lekso Lashkarava and noted that the accusation of a drug overdose as the possible reason behind his death is a tactic used by autocratic governments. 

Lashkarava was violently attacked by right-wing counter protesters of the Tbilisi Pride march on July 5 and found dead at home later on July 11. 

The Interior Ministry of Georgia connected the death of Lashkarava with drugs by publishing video footage from the day before his death, in which Lashkarava’s route with a friend to Ponichala - a suburb of Tbilisi - was recorded. 

In an interview with the Georgian Bureau of Voice of America (VOA) William Courtney and Kenneth Ialovich said that after Lekso Lashkarava's death, the government's response was not in line with reality. 

William Courtney, the current Adjunct Senior Fellow of Rand Corporation, said that naming drug overdose as the probable cause of death of Lekso Lashkarava most likely is a false accusation. 

In autocratic societies, false accusations of drug use are often made against people in opposition to them. I am reminded of one example from Moscow, where an investigative journalist, Ivan Golunov, was accused of drug use. Several newspapers then defended the journalist and he was released. This is not the action we expect from Georgia. The West sees Georgia as a growing democracy, and such behaviour is characteristic of autocratic governments,” said Courtney. 

Kenneth Ialovich believes that the death of Lashkarava is related to his having been brutally beaten on July 5. 

I'm not a doctor, but when I saw the photos of this gentleman, it was clear that he was beaten very badly. When someone is beaten in the head as it was in Lashkaravas’s case, there is always a chance that there will be bleeding in the brain or some kind of brain damage that did not appear during the examination,” Ialovich said. 

The former ambassadors to Georgia claim that the death of Lekso Lashkarava, physical and verbal assault of 53 journalists and the actions from the Georgian government in recent days are very damaging for Georgia's image.

Ialovich also noted that democratic achievement which Georgia had in recent years is slowly disappearing, not only because of the events of July 5-6, but also because of the political crisis created over the past year. 

This is not just one step, it is a whole series of events where democracy is slowly weakening, piece by piece,” said Kenneth Ialovich. 

US diplomats fear that pro-western path of Georgia is no longer as clear as it once was and think that it is time for the Georgian government to show its clear choice to the country’s partners through actions.

This has a very serious impact on Georgia's aspirations towards the west and NATO. It is clear that the current government is revealing illiberal ambitions on some important issues. It seems that [the Georgian government] is moving away from the western orientation to some extent, however, how far it is from this path is still unknown,” William Courtney said. 

The ruling Georgian Dream party blamed the opposition for the events of July 5-6 and accused them of ‘trading by tragedy.’ 

Civil activists, media representatives, NGOs and opposition politicians demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia Vakhtang Gomelauri. 

A total of 23 people have been detained for the violent attacks on more than 50 journalists at the Tbilisi Pride counter rally on Rustaveli Avenue in central Tbilisi.