Controversial confirmation hearings for Georgia’s Supreme Court were disrupted on Thursday after a foul-smelling substance was released in parliament.
The proceedings came amidst protest rallies and arrests outside parliament and journalists forcibly removed from a committee hearing.
A recess was announced in Parliament after the substance was used and forensic and medical units were called to the scene.
After parliament reconvened later that day, all 14 nominees were confirmed by parliament.
Critics have accused the government of forming an alliance with a group of influential judges in the judiciary, dubbed a ‘clan’.
According to Sopo Kiladze, head of Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, two MPs, and two parliamentary staff were affected by the odour released in parliament, one of whom was hospitalised.
The Interior Ministry said they had launched the investigation into the ‘intentional infliction of a grave injury’, which is punishable by 3–6 years in prison.
Speaker of Parliament Archil Talakvadze called the incident a ‘chemical attack’ while another ruling party MP called it an act of terrorism.
Anti-government group For Freedom, which has waged a ‘Shame!’ campaign over recent months, claimed responsibility for the ‘joke’.
The group later said later they had used an ‘Antiseptic Dorogov’s Stimulator’, which they insisted was as a ‘protest mix’ causing no allergic reaction or any other side effects.
#Shamemovement is responsible for the stinky smell in the parliament. #Thesystemstinks. A veterinary antiseptic liquid is completely harmless and safe, not allergic and has no side effects while smelling. It was tested before publicly consumed. #tbilisiprotests pic.twitter.com/3V7kAdDx9e
— Shame Movement - For Freedom (@shamemovement) December 12, 2019
After the incident, Georgian Dream MP Dachi Beraia assaulted MP Roman Gotsiridze, from the opposition UNM Party, for making an ‘offensive’ post on Facebook.
[Read more on OC Media: The ‘clan’ in Georgia’s judiciary reattempt lifetime appointments].
Journalists dragged out
Earlier that day, parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee greenlit the 14 nominees for lifetime terms on the Supreme Court, including Chief Prosecutor Shalva Tadumadze, and sent the list to be confirmed by parliament
During the hearings, independent MP Eka Beselia and UNM MP Tina Bokuchava protested loudly against the vote, leading Legal Affairs Committee Chair Anri Okhanashvili to call a recess.
Parliament’s security staff then pushed and dragged the press pool from the hall. The journalists were attempting to cover a confrontation between Beselia and Okhanashvili.
After the session continued, Beselia condemned the conduct of security staff and accused Okhanashvili of obstructing journalists’ work, which is a criminal offence.
The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, an advocacy group, also condemned the force used against media workers and called on Speaker Archil Talakvadze to examine the conduct of security staff.
Opposition politicians and activists arrested
By the time the Legal Affairs Committee opened their session, police had detained 12 protesters on the streets outside for disobeying police and hooliganism.
Among the detainees were the leader of the New Georgia Party, Giorgi Vashadze, two members of the UNM, a member of the Victorious Georgia party (headed by former Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili’s), and two members of Mamuka Khazaradze’s Lelo moment: Irakli Kupradze and Giorgi Bunturi.
Some ruling party MPs entered Parliament hours before the two committee hearings started in order to bypass protesters. Others passed through the ‘corridors of shame’ at the entrances created by opposition groups.
Opposition parties and activist groups chanted ‘don’t confirm slaves’, referring to the list of nominees.
For Freedom, which has led recent anti-government protests over the government’s unmet promise to change to a proportional electoral system, made stencils on the road saying ‘Proportional now!’.
Nazi Janezashvili, a member of Georgia’s High Council of Justice (HCoJ), a stand-alone agency responsible for overseeing the judiciary, claimed she was prevented from entering parliament.
Her colleague on the council, Anna Dolidze, also marched outside the parliament with protesters, chanting ‘the list must fail’.