DRI: Interfering with the right of civil activities to put up a tent grossly restricts freedom of assembly

The Democracy Research Institute is responding to the interference with the right of civil activists to put up symbolic tents during an assembly in front of the Parliament of Georgia on February 19 and 21, 2021, which led to the detention of several persons, and considers that: 1. During the detention, police officers acted illegally, without the relevant legal grounds; 2. Interference with the right to put up a tent and detention of civil activists were a gross violation of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 25 people were arrested on February 19 and 8 - on February 21 for disobeying the lawful request of the police officer. According to the statement released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs on February 21, pursuant to the Law of Georgia on Police, “Demonstrators are not allowed to put up a tent in front of the building of the legislative body." The Democracy Research Institute clarifies that the above statement has no legal grounds.

None of the legislative acts of Georgia restricts the right of protesters to place a temporary construction where they deem appropriate, unless the above interferes with the functioning of public institutions. According to the decision of the Tbilisi Court of Appeal, a person “has the right guaranteed by law to express his/her opinion publicly and peacefully in the part of the street and in the form he/she deems appropriate. An opinion may be expressed not only by speaking and making statements, but also in a silent form or by constructing temporary constructions, if the above does not contradict the legislation valid at that time.”

According to the same decision, putting up a tent is prohibited only if it interferes with the normal functioning of an institution, or purposefully impedes the movement of people.

The footage released clearly shows that the activists were trying to put up a temporary, symbolic tent in front of the Parliament of Georgia, on the side of Rustaveli Avenue. Since the entrance from the Zubalashvili Brothers Street is considered the main entrance to the Georgian Parliament building, it is unreasonable to assume that the police were trying to ensure the normal functioning of the Parliament. Moreover, even in the context of the narrow interpretation of the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations by the Court of Appeal, the placement of a tent in the large space in front of the Parliament building could in no way hinder the movement of people.

Given the above, the request of the police officers to remove the temporary tent cannot be considered legal. Consequently, the allegation that the demonstrators did not obey the lawful request of the law enforcement officer lacks legal grounds. No less disturbing is the mobilization of an unreasonably large number of law enforcers to detain activists, considering the number of the latter.

Accordingly, the Democracy Research Institute considers that the detention of demonstrators was an illegal and unequivocally disproportionate measure that grossly violates not only the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, but also the freedom of activists detained without legal grounds.