New law allows Georgian government to restrict rights without declaring state of emergency

22 May 2020
Tbilisi’s central Rustaveli Avenue. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The Georgian Parliament has passed a controversial law which will allow the government to impose restrictions on travel, assembly, economic activities, and property rights without introducing a state of emergency.

According to the bill, which passed today, the government will no longer require parliamentary approval for imposing such restrictions. Opposition parties and human rights groups criticised the bill harshly and claimed the amendments are unconstitutional.  

Initially, the bill would have instituted these changes indefinitely, after criticism, however, the text of the bill was changed so that the amendments made by the bill would be enforced between 23 May and 15 July. 

To impose these restrictions independently, the bill introduced a new definition of `quarantine measures’ which can be enforced solely by the government. The bill amends the Law on Healthcare and the Georgian Criminal Code.

The explanatory note of the bill states that as current restrictions are in force only until the state of emergency is over and that these measures are necessary in order to ‘sustain’ the ‘fight’ against the virus, as they will ‘provide the government with leverage to quickly and efficiently deal with the disease’.

The Georgian government initially declared a state of emergency on 21 March.

‘Interference with the Constitution’ 

‘The draft law goes against the Constitution of Georgia and it envisages the restriction of fundamental human rights that, according to the Constitution, can be restricted only during a state of emergency and with the approval of the Parliament’, Transparency International wrote in a statement on 19 May. The statement was published prior to the bill’s passing.

The statement underlines the importance of parliamentary oversight and states that the pandemic is no excuse for shirking the constitution. 

‘It is not justified to adopt an unconstitutional law on the pretext of fighting the pandemic, which jeopardizes the country’s democracy and increases the authority of the Government at the expense of the legislature’, the statement reads. ‘The role of the Parliament is particularly important in an emergency situation and the illegal transfer of powers defined by the Constitution to the Government puts the democratic development of the country at considerable risk.’

The Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), a local rights group has warned that ‘granting this authority to the Government of Georgia increases the possibility of unjustified interference in this rights protected by the Constitution’.

Nika Simonishvili, a lawyer at GYLA, told OC Media that despite only lasting until 15 July, the bill still unconstitutional. 

‘The whole problem is that the government shouldn’t have such a right by law at all’, he said. ‘The restriction of rights might be temporary, however, it is still unjust.’ 

‘I don’t see that this bill contradicts the constitution’, Georgian Dream MP Dimitri Khundadze told reporters on 21 May. ‘We can discuss this and if somebody will stubbornly claim that it does, there’s a constitutional court and they can appeal it if they want to.’

Opposition parties in the country have also opposed the bill, claiming that the government will gain excessive power if the bill is adopted. Roman Gotsiridze, the chair of the opposition United National Movement faction in the parliament has called the bill, ‘a serious weapon in the hands of the government, which can be abused’.

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