DRI: The authorities are illegally restricting the freedom of assembly and expression of the partcipants in the Racha protests
The protest related to the transfer of 104,712 m2 of territory in Racha-Lechkhumi-Kvemo Svaneti to Davit Khidasheli, a businessman close to Russia, after 2 months of fruitless efforts, has moved to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture in Tbilisi. The demand of the movement "Save the Rioni Gorge" and the local residents of Racha is the complete cancellation of the license. The Democracy Research Institute has been monitoring the protests of Racha residents in Tbilisi since the very first day.
DRI considers that the authorities, from the very the beginning of the protests, used disproportionate force against peaceful protesters, who have not resorted to violence at any stage of the protests. Despite the fact that the protesters had announced a peaceful assembly, around 100 law enforcement officers were mobilized near the ministry from the very beginning. The situation became tense several times during the protests. The law enforcement officers did not allow the participants in the rally to enter the yard of the ministry from the main entrance and put up a tent there, which became the basis for clashes, during which the police arrested 11 people for administrative offences, on the basis of Articles 166 and 173 of the Administrative Offences Code of Georgia. Among those arrested was Public Broadcaster journalist Rati Ratiani, who was performing his professional duties. The trial of the detainees was held on November 19. All eleven activists were released from the courtroom. In order for the defence to present complete evidence, the court session of 8 activists has been scheduled for November 29, 12:00, while the trial of three activists will be held on November 30, at 12:00.
The Democracy Research Institute considers that the detention of protest organizers, participants and media representatives by law enforcement officers is a gross interference in the freedom of assembly and expression. The currently applied legislation and judicial practice of Georgia allows the setting up of temporary structures, including tents, during protests, as part freedom of assembly. According to the judicial practice, it is necessary to establish a legitimate goal and the necessity of interfering with the right, in order to restrict the right of the protester to set up a tent. According to the Tbilisi City Court ruling, "The right to assemblies and demonstrations includes the right to choose the place, time, form and content of the assembly, which allows the possibility of placing temporary structures."
The recent developments show that the authorities are trying to restrict freedom of assembly and expression with all possible resources at its disposal. The draft amendments to the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations initiated by the members of the parliamentary majority in the Parliament of Georgia, which prohibit the arrangement of temporary constructions on 5 possible, vague and general grounds, was a proof of the above. Although, after the veto of the President, the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority is not in a hurry to return the amendments to the agenda, however, it is alarming that the restrictions stipulated by the draft amendments are already in effect without the law coming into force.
The participants in the rally talk about many incidents of the use of excessive force by the law enforcement officers in the process of arresting the activists. According to them, during arrests, several participants in the rally, including women and minors, received physical injuries. The main goal of the activities of the representatives of the law enforcement agencies should be to ensure order and safety of the assembly participants.
DRI calls on:
The Ministry of Internal Affairs:
- to allow the participants in the rally to freely enjoy freedom of assembly and expression within the framework of peaceful expression;
- to ensure the safety of the participants in the assembly.
The Special Investigative Service:
- to timely study the cases of alleged abuse of authority by the law enforcement officers during the arrest of the participants in the rally and to provide information to the public about the progress of the investigation.