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Harassment and physical attacks against journalists, and a government proposal to stiffen penalties for the defamation of public officials, are giving rise to serious concern about press freedom in Georgia, says a new report released by the Council of Europe.

Written by two independent media experts who conducted a fact-finding visit to the country in July 2002, the report says media professionals throughout the country describe Georgia's media as less free in 2002 than five years ago.

Journalists everywhere, especially in the regions, "operate in fear, not only of interference by officials and prosecutors, but also of lawlessness, harassment and physical attacks," the report says. While local media are partly responsible for often reporting "inaccurate, incomplete or exaggerated information," attacks against journalists often go unpunished.

The media experts say another cause of concern is the government's proposal to amend the Criminal Code adding lengthier jail sentences for those convicted of defaming public officials. "This is an extremely worrying development. The criminalization of journalistic speech is unnecessary, and the longer maximum sentence for critics of public figures is particularly inappropriate," they write.

Read the full report here, including the experts' recommendations:">">

Visit these links:

- Human Rights Watch Report on Georgia:">">

- Independent Association of Georgian Journalists:">">

- Internews Georgia:

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