DRI: The authorities have a responsibility to tolerate the inconvenience caused by assemblies
The Democracy Research Institute (DRI) is responding to the statement issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs regarding the use of sanctions under the Criminal Code of Georgia in connection with the rally scheduled by the United National Movement for November 15.
On November 14, 2021, the United National Movement announced that they would hold a protest march near Avlabari Metro. According to the party, they were going to organize a march and block traffic on both banks of the Mtkvari River. In response, the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a statement warning the organizers of the rally of the possibility of applying sanctions provided for in Article 226 of the Criminal Code.
The Democracy Research Institute clarifies that contrary to the statement issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Article 226 of the Criminal Code of Georgia should be interpreted systemically, together with the relevant normative acts, and not separately, independently of them. The Constitution of Georgia guarantees freedom of assembly and expression. According to the European Court of Human Rights, any demonstration in a public place inevitably causes a certain level of disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, and that it is important for the public authorities to show a certain degree of tolerance towards peaceful gatherings if the freedom of assembly guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights is not to be deprived of all substance.
According to the Georgian Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations, demonstrators have the right to gather express to protest without prior notice and permission, which does not automatically indicate the "illegal" nature of the demonstration. Otherwise, freedom of assembly and expression would be deprived of its content. Demonstrators also have the right to completely or partially block a roadway, if it is not possible to hold an assembly or demonstration otherwise, given the number of demonstrators.
Complete or partial blocking of a roadway should not automatically be a basis for the application of administrative-legal liability mechanisms against demonstrators. In some cases, the implementation of the named actions may result in only administrative-legal and not criminal liability.
The Democracy Research Institute notes that the attitude of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was not so categorical towards the violent rallies organized by hate groups, which were also announced a few days earlier (police inaction on July 5-6, 2021). The Ministry of Internal Affairs did not take any legal measures against the blocking of a road at the entrance to Tbilisi by the Georgian March party, which aimed to prevent supporters of the United National Movement from entering Tbilisi and holding a rally on Rustaveli Avenue on October 29, 2020.
As the politicization of state institutions and selective application of legislation against political opponents have recently reached a critical point, the Democracy Research Institute calls on the Georgian authorities to adhere to the Constitution and respect freedom of expression and assembly.
Sergey Kuznetsov v. Russia, No. 10877/04, § 44, 23 October 2008