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Anti-government protesters defy curfew in Tbilisi

10 November 2020
Protesters dancing outside parliament after the curfew began. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

Over 100 anti-government protesters in Tbilisi have remained outside parliament overnight in defiance of a curfew in force between 22:00–05:00.

Georgian police detained several activists from the Shame! group after they attempted to bring firewood to their protest site outside Parliament in Tbilisi. Police insisted the inflammable objects were in breach of safety rules.

Georgian police detained several activists from the Shame! group. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The group said that one of their activists, Giorgi Mzhavanadze, was beaten by police in detention. The State Inspector’s Service said on Tuesday that they had opened an investigation.

Protesters gathered outside parliament on Monday after calls from Shame! and several opposition parties against the disputed results of last week’s election.

The vote on 31 October has triggered demonstrations by almost all major political groups, including the eight parties eligible to be represented in the next parliament.

[Read more on OC Media: Continuous protests break out over ‘rigged elections’ in Georgia]

Most of the protesters dispersed before 22:00 after several opposition leaders suggested gathering again on Saturday. However, several opposition leaders also joined the overnight protests in solidarity with the Shame! activists.

European Georgia leader Gigi Ugulava announced shortly before midnight that he was ‘going for a walk’ to see if police fined him. Shortly after he got a car and left. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The activists claimed throughout the night that police fined several of the protesters ₾2,000 ($600) for breaking curfew as soon as they left the protest site.

‘Unconstitutional’ curfew

The Georgian government instituted an overnight curfew in Tbilisi and six other major cities 9 days after the parliamentary elections in Georgia, citing rising COVID-19 numbers. 

While opposition groups have not committed to challenging the curfew hours, activist group Shame! called supporters to Monday’s protest specifically against the government’s decision to limit the rights of the assembly at night.

They along with opposition parties have suggested that the government introduced the curfew to silence election-related protests, not to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Local rights groups — including the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), the Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI), the Human Rights Centre (HRC), and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC) — have said the curfew is a breach of the constitution.

A previous curfew enacted in March was done so under a state of emergency, which has specific a clause in the constitution to allow it.

IDFI underlined in a statement on 9 November that the government had committed to pursuing ‘targetted responses’ to the outbreak and respecting freedom of assembly as recently as on 6 November, only a day before the curfew was announced.

Heavy-handed police response against protests 

Georgian opposition groups announced Monday’s protest to demand a repeat of the election following a heavy-handed response from riot police against a demonstration outside the Central Election Commission (CEC) building on the previous day. 

[Read more on OC Media: Protesters face off with riot police outside Georgian Central Election commission]

The government came under fire from local rights groups the Open Society — Georgia Foundation, Transparency International — Georgia and Democracy Research Institute for their failure to warn protesters before deploying ‘special measures’ such as water cannons, which according to watchdogs were also used disproportionately. 

According to Georgia’s Interior Ministry, 14 of their officers and 10 participants of the demonstration were injured on the night of 8–9 November. They also confirmed that three journalists sustained injuries.

On 9 November, the Charter of Journalistic Ethics, a local advocacy group, protested against the police action against their colleagues on Sunday. Photo: Publika

According to officials, 19 people were detained during the protests outside the CEC office.

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