The freedom of peaceful assembly and expression was infringed upon frequently in Georgia in 2015–2016, according to a new publication (Protest deemed a criminal offence) by Georgian human rights group, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA).
Despite guarantees in Georgian legislation to the right to peaceful assembly, expressing this right is often accompanied by difficulties in real life. In addition, Georgia’s Administrative Offences Code in its current form fails to meet the requirements of due process and needs to undergo substantial reform, the report claims.
Actions by Georgian police against demonstrators remains outside of the proper legal control of national courts, the report claims.
It includes several examples of infringements of the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression over the last two years. In December 2016, the police detained two protesters during a demonstration organised by the White Noise Movement, which campaigns against Georgia’s severe drug-policy. They were detained for ‘resisting police’. The arrests were made shortly after protesters attempted to temporarily block traffic. According to GYLA, the police did not take into account that this occurred because of an increase in the number of participants, and was temporary.
Enjoyment of the right to assembly still remains a problem for Georgia’s queer activists. Due to negative experiences in past years and the absence of appropriate security guarantees from the government, the majority of queer activists declined to participate in a large-scale assembly on 17 May 2016 for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. A small group of activists writing messages near the building of the Patriarch’s Office was detained by the police for disobeying the police and ‘defacing of the appearance of a self-governing unit’. This case, according to GYLA, demonstrates that the state fails to properly fulfil its obligations and to take reasonable and adequate measures in order to provide everyone with the opportunity to hold a peaceful assembly in such a manner as to exclude fear of expected physical violence.
It is against this background that the Ministry of Internal Affairs continues to improperly apply legislation on administrative offences against participants of demonstrations, which remains outside the proper control of the national courts, the report reads.
The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association issued recommendations for parliament, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and for the courts. According to the recommendations, changes should be made to the Administrative Offences Code, and if an administrative offence case is reviewed by a court, the person held liable should be granted the right to request examination of the lawfulness of the administrative arrest within the scope of the same legal proceedings.
The police should follow international standards and Georgian legislation during demonstrations, and intervene in the freedom of assembly and expression only when there are appropriate grounds for that.