Once the only journalist imprisoned in Georgia, Nika Gvaramia confesses that after years of fighting for his country, he sometimes feels guilty about how his work affects his family. "They are sacrificing a lot," he said of his wife and three children. "My kids are persistently under danger of being attacked because their father is Nika Gvaramia." The family's eldest son already lives in the United States under asylum. But Gvaramia finds solace in his fight for what he believes would make a better Georgia — a country many see as teetering between Russia and the West. "They know that I'm fighting for the home I love. It is our family tradition," Gvaramia said. His father, also a dissident, fought for Georgian independence and ended up in jail over five decades ago. Thirteen months into his three-and-a-half-year prison sentence, Gvaramia was unexpectedly pardoned and released in June. Now, with Georgia preparing for parliamentary and presidential elections in 2024, Gvaramia is deciding on his next move, and how he can best help his country. Currently, that means traveling to the U.S. and European capitals to meet with lawmakers and civil society. He is back in the United States this week to receive an International Press Freedom Award presented by the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, in recognition of his work. After a week of meetings in Washington last month, Gvaramia met with VOA over coffee to talk about his accomplishments and next steps. A former member of the Georgian parliament, Gvaramia founded the pro-opposition broadcaster Mtavari Arkhi in 2019. In May 2022, a court convicted him of abuse of office related to his work in 2019 as the director of another broadcaster called Rustavi 2. He denied the charges, which he, his colleagues and press freedom experts rejected as retaliatory. Gvaramia's wife, Sofia Liluashvili, campaigned tirelessly for her husband's release. She believes his jailing was intended to weaken Gvaramia and his family. But, she said, it only made them stronger. "My family became the product of injustice and the outcome of the violation of individual liberties," Liluashvili told VOA. Gvaramia's case became emblematic of the challenges facing media in Georgia, as well as the bigger struggle facing the country's European future. Press freedom, as well as democracy, remain under threat in Georgia, according to Gvaramia. Once celebrated as among the freest former Soviet countries, Georgia has struggled with corruption and democratic backsliding in recent years. In October, Georgia's parliament passed amendments to the country's broadcasting laws that would permit authorities to fine or suspend broadcasters for content violations, including "obscenity," according to CPJ. In a statement, Gulnoza Said, the Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at CPJ, said the measures "could have a deeply pernicious effect in Georgia's polarized environment." Gvaramia, as well as press freedom experts and political analysts, believe he was jailed as part of an apparent effort to sabotage Georgia's candidacy for European Union membership. Georgia's Washington Embassy did not reply to VOA's email requesting comment for this story. But an embassy spokesperson previously denied to VOA that Gvaramia's jailing was part of an effort to derail the country's EU candidacy. Since his release, Gvaramia has taken a step back from Mtavari Arkhi, the outlet he founded. "They survived without me. They can continue without me," he said. Plus, after spending over one year in prison, Gvaramia worries about potential perceptions of bias if he remained too closely involved with the broadcaster, he added. For now, he is focusing on causes that have come to define his career and life: press freedom, democracy and countering Russian influence. Originally from the region of Abkhazia, Gvaramia says he has seen how Russian influence affects his country. After the Georgian-Russian war in 2008, when Gvaramia was minister of justice, Moscow recognized the region as an independent state. The Georgian parliament responded by declaring Abkhazia occupied by Russia. Most United Nations member states agree with the Georgian view. Russian propaganda has for decades stirred support for the Abkhazia separatist movement, according to think tank and academic reports. "I'm considering any possible option to defend against Russian-style propaganda, Russia-style government, Russian-style regime. I will do my best to defeat authoritarianism. And what I will do precisely, I don't know. But still, I will do my best," Gvaramia said. "There is no luxury of being mistaken." Sitting on the rooftop of a building in downtown Washington, Gvaramia spoke about how the stakes couldn't be higher for the looming elections. "Either we have democracy on the ground, or we are Russia. There is no third option from my perspective," Gvaramia said. He believes independent election monitoring will be necessary. But despite the grim outlook, optimism is always in abundance with Gvaramia. "Democracy will never die," he said. "I don't need anything except democracy."