July 26, 2001, in Tbilisi, Georgia
Nika Tabatadze, news director of Rustavi-2, told CPJ that Sanaya's colleagues became concerned when he failed to report for work at the usual time on the afternoon of July 26 and did not answer his home or cellular telephones. That evening, a group of co-workers went to his apartment and knocked repeatedly on the door. When no one answered, they called the police, who entered the apartment and discovered Sanaya's body.
In a special television address, President Eduard Shevardnadze directed the minister of internal affairs, the prosecutor general, and the minister of state security to oversee the investigation personally. On July 27, President Shevardnadze met with U.S. chargé d'affaires Philip Remler and asked for the FBI's help in the investigation, according to Georgian and Russian press sources.
Although the police, assisted by a group of FBI agents, immediately launched an investigation, it failed to produce significant results. A suspect was detained in August but was later released due to lack of evidence, CPJ sources reported.
Sanaya's Rustavi-2 colleagues firmly believe that the murder resulted from his professional work, although they were not aware of any specific threats against the journalist. Erosi Kitsmarishvili, executive director of Rustavi-2, told CPJ that the murder could have been intended to intimidate the station, which is known for its investigative reporting on state corruption and misuse of power in Georgia. The station has frequently been the target of government harassment in recent years.
While Sanaya's work was not generally controversial, he had recently hosted a segment on Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, a lawless area near the Chechen border that is known for drug smuggling and kidnapping. A former parliamentary deputy who appeared on the program speculated publicly that criminals from the Pankisi Gorge region may have been responsible for Sanaya's murder.
On December 6, police arrested former police officer Grigol Khurtsilava after a ballistic analysis traced the murder weapon to him, the Georgian news agency Black Sea Press reported. Acting on his confession, police found the murder weapon and keys to Sanaya's apartment. Khurtsilava was then officially charged with Sanaya's murder, local and international sources reported.
Job: Broadcast Reporter
Beats Covered: Corruption, Politics
Local or Foreign: Local
Type of Death: Murder
Suspected Source of Fire: Criminal Group
Taken Captive: No
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