Three women have accused Shalva Ramishvili, a prominent pro-government pundit and co-owner of the similarly aligned POSTV channel, of sexually harassing them during job interviews.
On 20 March, journalist Mako Jabua accused Ramishvili of sexually harassing her during a job interview ‘7 or 8 years ago’.
Jabua alleged that, during the interview, Ramishvili showed her a pornographic video, supposedly to test how she handled ‘awkward situations’, and afterwards asked her to masturbate in front of him.
After she refused to do so, she claimed that Ramishvili unzipped his trousers, following which she stopped the interview and left.
‘I walked home for two hours and cried a lot in the bathroom again after that’, Jabua wrote. ‘That’s the Shalva Ramishvili that I know. There are a lot of similar stories.’
Two other women subsequently came forward with similar allegations.
Ramishvili has denied the allegations, while leading members of the ruling Georgian Dream Party have leapt to his defence.
Ramishvili has previously been implicated in sexual harassment. In January 2018, Tbilisi City Court awarded compensation to one of his former employees, Tatia Samkharadze, after she accused him of making unwanted sexual advances at work.
Samkharadze alleged at the time that ‘very famous people’ told her that they had had similar experiences with Ramishvili. Samkharadze’s case was seen as having contributed to the passing of a landmark law against sexual harassment.
The day after Jabua posted her allegations on Facebook, actor Anano Iashvili reshared the post, adding her own account of being harassed by Ramishvili when she was 18.
Iashvili stated that she had been invited by Ramishvili to a job interview at pro-government TV channel Imedi and was later harassed by him online after declining the position.
‘He’s a typical maniac […] and this person has a platform to preach to others and walk freely in the streets… meanwhile, it took me years to overcome this trauma’, Iashvili wrote, calling other victims of sexual harassment to speak up.
Later the same day, another Georgian woman, Gvantsa Budaghashvili, made similar allegations.
Budaghashvili said that during an interview with Ramishvili in 2018 for POS TV, he promised her success due to her ‘charms’, and demanded in a follow-up meeting, while drunk, that she describe her ‘sexual fetishes’.
Bughashvili said he continued to persistently attempt to communicate with her.
Ramishvili quickly used his talk show to deny the allegations, insisting that he was being ‘bullied’ and ‘shamed’ over ‘absurd’ allegations because his channel was popular.
The latest allegations triggered public condemnation by many Georgians on Facebook, the platform most frequently used for discussing public matters in the country.
After the three women told their stories, liberal activist group Shame expressed their solidarity with the victims, lauding their ‘bravery, especially when the assaulter is backed by the government’.
The ruling party jumps to Ramishvili’s defence
Soon after the scandal broke, members of the ruling Georgian Dream party began to question the accusations. Ramishvili has been close to the party since it first took power over a decade ago, and POS TV has frequently focused its attention on lambasting government critics.
Nino Tsilosani, who chairs parliament’s Gender Equality Council, condemned sexual harassment in general but warned against identifying a perpetrator through ‘moral police instead of the law’.
‘We should all understand that this sort of crime is very grave, but that making rushed conclusions and accusations is equally grave’, wrote Tsilosani.
The leader of the parliamentary majority, Mamuka Mdinaradze, more directly questioned the veracity of Jabua’s accusations, which he underlined had been voiced years after the harassment allegedly took place.
‘I don’t believe it. Do I have to necessarily believe it?’, Mdinaradze asked on 21 March.
‘This is part of a campaign directed against a critical TV company and journalists, anchors […] This is, most probably, a part of a fascist campaign', Mdinaradze claimed.
Georgian Dream has been using the terms ‘fascist’ and ‘liberal fascists’ to describe critics of their aborted plans to introduce legislation targeting civil society and the media.
[Read more: Georgian Dream formally kill foreign agent draft law]
An official POS TV statement on the accusations used similar wording, three times claiming that ‘liberal fascists’ were responsible for the scandal.
Shalva Ramishvili came to fame in the late 1990s as a political satirist. He was an ardent critic of the United National Movement during its time in power (2003–2012), particularly following his attempt in 2005 to extort $100,000 from a UNM lawmaker, resulting in a four-year prison sentence.
Ramishvili swiftly became closely affiliated with the Georgian Dream party and its founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, as they came into power, beginning in 2011 when the billionaire party founder openly offered to pay for Ramishvili to host a satirical show.
Ramishvili was part of the winning presidential campaign of Georgian Dream-backed Giorgi Margvelashvili in 2013 and briefly led Margvelashvili’s public relations department in 2014.
In April 2019, Ivanishvili, then having resigned from the post of Prime Minister but acting as party chair, indicated that he saw POS TV as a platform to defend him and the government against criticism from independent media.
Last October, a majority stake in POS TV was acquired by People’s Power, a group that broke away from the ruling party to level accusations against the EU and the West. People’s Power remain part of the parliamentary majority.
[Read more on OC Media: Pro-government Georgian TV channel merges with anti-West group People’s Power]
The group was also responsible for Georgia’s foreign agent draft laws, which were tabled in February, and doggedly supported by the ruling party.