A concert has been held outside the Georgian Parliament in support of Lazare Grigoriadis, the first and so far only protester against the aborted foreign agent law to be criminally prosecuted.
Saturday evening’s concert, which was organised by the European Georgia party and several affiliated groups, saw several hundred people gather outside parliament. It included performances from well-known local acts, including pop singer Stephane Mgebrishvili and rock groups Dagdagani and the Loudspeakers.
Since his arrest on 29 March, the ruling Georgian Dream party has conducted a public relations campaign against Grigoriadis, with party leaders labelling him an ‘anarchist’ and a ‘man with a confused orientation’.
Beyond the politically charged nature of the case, concerns about politicised justice grew in light of reports that the 21-year-old’s rights were violated while he was in pre-trial custody.
Grigoriadis has been charged with attacking a police officer and arson, for allegedly throwing a Molotov cocktail at police and setting fire to a car during the 7–9 March protests against the foreign agent bills. He faces from 7–11 years in prison if convicted.
The draft foreign agent law was widely seen in Georgia and in the West as an attempt to silence civil society and independent media. After two nights of intense demonstrations in which tens of thousands of people came to the streets, the ruling party dropped their support for the bills.
The organisers of Saturday’s event said they were demonstrating against the ‘obscurantist demonisation’ of Grigoriadis.
‘We believe that solidarity from compatriots can spare Lazare from selective justice by the sanctioned court, so that he’s not sacrificed at the altar of our common, national victory’, the event announcement read.
Tamara Chergoleishvili, Chair of the Voter Education Society and the organiser of the event, claimed that Grigoriadis’ prosecution had ‘become a battle between values’.
‘The whole system went after him by coming up with a story, a whole narrative against him’, Chergoleishvili told OC Media, referring to claims by government and pro-government figures that he was a ‘satanist’, and comments on his sexual orientation.
‘We want to keep the topic alive until momentum comes when we’re able to free him’, she added.
Other opposition groups have also expressed strong support for Grigoriadis, including Georgia’s largest opposition party, the United National Movement, which held a demonstration at the same spot on Rustaveli Avenue on Sunday. Freeing Grigoriadis was among their key demands.
Pro-government figures and media have frequently portrayed support for Grigoriadis — including that of opposition parties Lelo, Girchi — More Freedom, and Strategy Aghmashenebeli — as a justification for political violence.
Opposition groups dispute the allegation.
‘We are against the demonisation of Lazare, this is a sort of heroisation of him in response to the campaign against him’, Chergoleishvili claimed before the concert began on 8 April.
Zurab Girchi Japaridze, chair of the Girchi—More Freedom libertarian party, also rejected this line of reasoning earlier this week.
Japaridze pointed out on Friday a much larger violent resistance to police in the Pankisi Valley in April 2019, after which, he noted, ‘no one was punished because [the authorities] considered the political context’.
‘It should also be considered in this case […] Lazare defended the Constitution. If not Lazare and other “Lazares”, they would have adopted this bill’, Japaridze argued.
Maia Kopaleishvili, a law professor and former Constitutional Court Justice, concurred with this line of reasoning on 1 April, highlighting a 2008 opinion by the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE), an independent body of the Council of Europe.
‘A judicial decision may need not only to take account of the relevant legal material but also to have regard to non-legal concepts and realities relevant to the context of the dispute such as, for example, ethical, social or economic considerations’, the CCJE opinion reads.
On Friday, the Court of Appeals dismissed the defence’s motion to grant Grigoriadis bail, according to his lawyer, Lika Bitadze. His second court appearance is set for 1 May.