DRI: The legal framework regulating freedom of assembly is flawed
The next parliamentary elections will be held in Georgia in October 2024. The election year is usually full of assemblies and demonstrations of political content. Accordingly, the Democracy Research Institute considers it important to assess the legislation that regulates freedom of assembly and expression and actions of law enforcement officers in the process of exercising these rights.

The document prepared by the Democracy Research Institute addresses the legislative changes and initiatives that help to punish protestors and make it almost impossible to fully enjoy the rights to assembly and expression guaranteed by the Constitution. For example, with the amendments made to the Administrative Offences Code in 2021, fines have been tightened and administrative detention terms have been increased for violations of the articles, on the basis of which protestors are most often detained. The mentioned changes may have a chilling effect on the frequency of protests.

Over the years, the observation of demonstrations has revealed that administrative detentions of protestors are most often based on the simultaneous use of two articles - petty hooliganism and disobedience to the legal request of the police. Due to the fact that these two norms are significantly different from each other, their automatic, joint application in many cases lacks a legal basis. On the other hand, the inconsistent, selective approach of the police towards the participants in the assembly is problematic. While law enforcement officers are particularly harsh towards demonstrators critical of the authorities, their loyalty towards violent far-right protestors, even when they disobey the legal demands of the police, is striking.

The document also critically evaluates several legislative initiatives, the adoption of which will unreasonably limit freedom of expression. Among them is the draft law initiated by the members of the parliamentary majority, which makes it possible to ban the erection of temporary constructions at the rallies on several vague grounds.

The annual EU enlargement report prepared by the European Commission in relation to Georgia talks about the need to reform the Administrative Offences Code and mentions that vague norms allow law enforcement agencies to unreasonably restrict the right to assembly and expression. To ensure freedom of assembly and expression as defined by the European Commission in November 2023, according to the Democracy Research Institute:

  • It is necessary to carry out an in-depth reform of the Administrative Offences Code;
  • The practice of arresting demonstrators without legal grounds should be eliminated;
  • The Government should reject/not put back on the agenda the draft laws that unjustifiably limit freedom of assembly and expression.