One of the leaders of liberal activist group Shame, who have helped organise recent anti-government and pro-Ukraine protests in Tbilisi, has been sentenced to four days administrative arrest, the group has announced.
Shota Dighmelashvili was detained on 8 March after throwing an egg at the Georgian Government Chancellery in central Tbilisi in what he called a protest against the treatment of other activists a day earlier.
Shame have largely led two weeks of daily protests in Tbilisi over the Georgian government’s statements and decisions in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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On their twelfth day of protests, activists gathered outside the government offices throwing toilet paper at the building, which was heavily guarded by police. Upon ending their performance, police detained 15 protesters, releasing six of them later that night with pending court hearings.
All of the activists, including Dighmelashvili and other members of Shame, were charged with disobeying police and petty hooliganism.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgian police arrest 15 pro-Ukraine activists for TPing government offices]
In conversation with OC Media, Guram Imnadze, Director of the Democracy and Justice Programme at the Tbilisi-based Centre for Social Justice Center, said Dighmelashvili’s actions were ‘entirely’ within the realm of ‘political expression’.
‘Defining behaviour like this as an offence is very problematic and dangerous. Even more problematic is punishing an action like this with four days of detention’, he said.
Imnadze argued that both the arrest and the sentence ‘created the impression’ that they were ‘directed against free speech’ and were meant as a warning against other politically active individuals.
Rights groups also expressed concern about freedom of expression in February last year, when another leading member of Shame, Nodar Rukhadze, was detained and then fined for shouting anti-government slogans outside Parliament.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgian activist arrested ‘for shouting anti-government slogans’]
While declining to comment on the specifics of Dighmelashvili’s case, Shorena Loladze, who heads the Legal Aid Centre at the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), said that the Georgian courts ‘often impose disproportionate sanctions’, including ‘heavy fines and even detentions’.
‘Law enforcement agencies often use the courts as a sort of punitive institution against specific activists, which is obviously dangerous’, Loladze said.