DRI appeals against the refusal of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to provide information related to the March 7-8 protests
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia did not provide the Democracy Research Institute with information requested regarding the March 7-8 demonstrations, including: the copies of the orders issued by the officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the protection of order and public safety at the demonstration; information about the special equipment used and the time given to demonstrators for leaving the area; information about how many law enforcement officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were involved in the dispersal of the rally; who was in charge of the public safety protection measures taken by the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the dispersal of the rally on Rustaveli Avenue on March 7 and 8, 2023.
The Democracy Research Institute believes that the refusal of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to provide public information violates the Constitution of Georgia and the applicable legislation, which guarantees access to public information. That is why, on May 11, the organization applied to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Vakhtang Gomelauri, with an administrative complaint.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, pursuant to the Law of Georgia on State Secrets, the information requested by the Democracy Research Institute represents the state secret. However, the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not provide the relevant basis for considering the information secret and limited itself to general reference to the law.
State secrets are information in the fields of defence, economy, foreign relations, intelligence, state security, law and order, and civil security, the disclosure or loss of which may harm the sovereignty, constitutional order, political and economic interests of Georgia, or a party to an international treaty or agreement signed by Georgia, and which is considered classified information on the basis of the law.
DRI asserts that the requested information does not fall into the category of information that may be of classified in nature:
- Public interest in the information requested is high
- Many people were physically injured during the March 7-8 rally; information about the special equipment used is necessary for their full treatment
- Before using special equipment, the relevant agencies are obliged to warn the relevant persons in advance and give them adequate time to comply with the legal request of the police officer and/or public security service employee; Therefore, information about whether the relevant agency followed this standard cannot be a state secret
- Secrecy of information about the special equipment used makes it impossible to exercise external, democratic control and gives the relevant services the opportunity to use special equipment without control, including those prohibited by the legislation of Georgia
- Pursuant to the legislation of Georgia, state secrets are: information about the operational movement of the units, their mobilization, combat readiness and the use of mobilization resources only in the field of defence (subparagraph a.a) of paragraph a) of Article 6 of the Law of Georgia on State Secrets). According to the law, in the field of maintaining law and order, information about the number of units and law enforcement officers mobilized on the spot during protests cannot be considered a state secret.
Avoiding public questions aimed at verifying the legitimacy of interference with freedom of assembly and expression, by relying on the Law on State Secrets and through its broad and unjustified interpretation, threatens the freedom of assembly in the country and calls into question the constitutional principle of the government’s accountability to people and society.