DRI: The court ruling relating to Racha protesters is a positive precedent in terms of protection of the right to peaceful assembly
The trial of 8 of the 11 people, arrested at the rally held against the sale of Racha forests in the vicinity of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture on November 18, was held in Tbilisi City Court on November 29. Judge Davit Tsereteli considered all eight cases. The court terminated proceedings against 6 persons and applied only verbal reprimands against 2 persons.
Taking into account the fact that the practice of judicial consideration of administrative offences is mainly formal in Georgia and decisions are often made without assessing individual circumstances, the ruling issued by judge Davit Tsereteli is a positive precedent in terms of the protection of the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs accused the organizers and participants in the rally of violation of Articles 166 and 173 of the Administrative Offences Code of Georgia, pertaining to petty hooliganism and disobedience to the legal requests of the police, which, as a rule, have served as the legal basis for the (often illegal) arrest of the participants in assemblies and demonstrations for years.
In the video evidence presented by the parties, the court identified only two of the detained activists who, despite the police officers’ request, continued to try to cross the roadway. In order to prove the guilt of the rest of the activists, the Ministry of Internal Affairs submitted only the statements of police officers. All witnesses presented by the Ministry of Internal Affairs were personally involved in the arrests of the demonstrators. The police officers’ statements mainly described the general situation of the protest and put less emphasis on the alleged offences committed by the detainees.
According to judge Davit Tsereteli, despite the fact that the assembly implies the concentration of many people, the content of the offence must be determined individually, with respect to individuals. Therefore, according to him, the description of the general situation of the protest could not become the basis for declaring a person an administrative offender. According to the judge, the erection of the tent was not completed, and therefore, it was impossible to determine whether the tent would block the entrance door of the Ministry.
The court was guided by the principle – a person cannot be found guilty on the basis of a doubt that cannot be proved and came to the conclusion that the actions of only two protesters, who were identified in the video evidence as persons diobeying the police officers’ legal request and attempting to block the roadway when there was no need to do so, could be classified as an offence (disobedience to the legal request of the police). Due to the insignificance of the offence, the court applied only a verbal reprimand.
The Democracy Research Institute positively evaluates the court's decision and hopes that it will serve as a precedent and allow the other three activists of the Racha protests detained on the same charges to enjoy the right to an independent trial, which is to be held in the near future.