Tbilisi City Court judge, Soso Ghurtskaia, made a ruling that establishes a precedent and decided that the defamation lawsuit against Georgia’s Reforms Associates was obviously groundless.
The case was about Giorgi Lomidze’s lawsuit as the plaintiff started to dispute the information contained in an article published by FactCheck.ge. The article said that Giorgi Lomidze’s video address on use of hydrogen peroxide (“peroxide”) to treat different diseases did contain disinformation. The plaintiff demanded a repudiation of this information and the payment of GEL 3 million for moral damage.
The Court made a judgement in absentia and rejected the lawsuit in accordance with procedural legislation. However, the Court also considered the opposing lawsuit brought by GRASS as the organisation demanded a GEL 1,000 monetary payment for the obviously groundless bid.
Of note is that this was one of the first cases when the Court considered Article 18 of the Law of Georgia on the Freedom of Speech and Expression based on an opposing lawsuit brought by a defendant. The law says: “If an apparently groundless claim for defamation has been filed that is aimed to create an unlawful restriction of the freedom of speech and expression, the respondent shall have the right to demand monetary compensation, within reasonable limits, from the plaintiff.”
In this case, the information in the article was not about the plaintiff since the disputed article offered an overview of the characteristics of hydrogen peroxide and the health hazards associated with drinking it. Therefore, these statements would not have encroached the plaintiff’s honour, dignity and reputation.
Since publicly made statements of criticism have become the grounds for launching court disputes many times before, which indicates attempts to abuse the lawsuit mechanism, silence journalists/media and restrict freedom of speech and expression, we believe that the aforementioned ruling sets an important precedent which would allow targets of such lawsuits to restore their rights through the Court. In addition, the given case is also important in order to make certain that defamation lawsuits are not used as one of the instruments to have a chilling effect for statements of criticisms. Therefore, such rulings would provide an important safeguard for GRASS and other organisations to work effectively against disinformation and not become targets of obviously groundless lawsuits.
Since 2013, Georgia’s Reforms Associates has been implementing the FactCheck fact-checking project. The project implies the verification of public statements as well as the accuracy of the facts within these statements. Since September 2020, GRASS and FactCheck.ge have been partners with Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme. The disputed article was produced within the scope of that partnership which aimed to fight against false information amid the COVID-19 pandemic on the Facebook platform and provide accurate information to readers.
GDI protects the interests of Georgia’s Reforms Associates in Court.