We would like to respond to the with the right to peaceful assembly by the police, which took place at a protest rally organized by Zaza Saralidze and Malkhaz Machalikashvili in front of the Parliament in Tbilisi on September 26, 2018. As confirmed by news reports, the protesters were planning to put up a tent on the pavement, which would not have caused interruption/blocking of the functioning of the Parliament building. Police officers dismantled the construction of the tent and didn’t allow the protesters to continue the protest in this form. There were also reports that the police had used physical force against the protesters, confiscated the tent, and conducted a search of a car. On the same day, , the police prevented civil activist Nata Peradze and a person accompanying her from joining the ongoing protest rally and forcibly confiscated a bag which contained a tent. They were only allowed to enter the area of the rally after the police had confiscated the tent.
It should be noted that this is not the first time the police have prevented protesters from holding an assembly in the peaceful form of their choosing. A similar incident took place appropriate response by the relevant agencies. , though it is still unknown whether or not the interference with the right to peaceful assembly was followed by an
Prevention of protesters from putting up a tent in the area of assembly on the part of the police constitutes an attempt to control the form of peaceful assembly, which grossly violates the essence of the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia and by the Law of Georgia on Assemblies and Demonstrations. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is obliged not to interfere with the holding of an assembly in the form that is peaceful and that has been chosen by the protesters. The right to choose the form, time, and place of a protest rally is part of the right to assembly on a par with its content, and a tent may be a vital attribute for continuing a protest rally.
According to the Guidelines of the OSCE/ODIHR, putting up a tent and other temporary constructions is regarded as part of the realm protected by the right to peaceful assembly. An act that prohibited putting up tents, caravans, and other constructions in ‘controlled areas’ was deemed to contradict the right to peaceful assembly protected by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights in one of the judgments against the United Kingdom, because putting up a tent, as the form and means of protest, has assumed a symbolic significance that is inseparable from the protest message.
The pavement is a public space to which everyone is entitled equal access; accordingly, the State is obliged to contribute to holding of peaceful assemblies at places suitable for protest organizers.
In a judgment adopted in 2011, the Constitutional Court of Georgia emphasized that ‘the possibility of equal and meaningful exercise [of the right to assembly and demonstration] determines the quality of openness and democracy of a society.’ The Court only deemed it possible to prohibit protesters from putting up temporary constructions in the context of blocking the carriageway, in relation to the legitimate goal of protecting other people’s rights. According to the Court, ‘participants of an assembly should be able to determine themselves the form which best expresses the goal of the assembly.’ (‘The right to assembly and demonstration includes the right to choose the place, time, form, and content of an assembly.’) In addition, the Constitution of Georgia only considers it admissible to restrict this right if the assembly assumes an unlawful character. It should be emphasized that the legislation in force in Georgia does not provide for the prohibition of putting up temporary constructions if they don’t interfere with the traffic. Thus, the actions of the law enforcement officers were not only unlawful but also unconstitutional.
The actions of the police also contradict the practice established by national courts. A judgment adopted by the Tbilisi City Court in 2016 established that putting up a tent without a prior permission falls within the right to peaceful assembly. The Court explainedthat ‘the right to assembly and demonstration includes the right to choose the place, time, form, and content of the assembly, which implies the possibility of putting up temporary constructions.’
It should be noted that ‘unlawful interference with the exercise of the right to hold or participate in an assembly and demonstrations using violence, threat of violence or official position’ is a crime and entails criminal liability.
The explanation of the Minister of Internal Affairs that the said restriction served to avoid provocations, uphold law and order, and ensure the safety is groundless and makes us think that the actions of the police were motivated by the interest of targeted interfering with the expression of protest rather than upholding the public order.
We, the signatory organizations, call upon:
- The Ministry of Internal Affairs – to stop interfering with the right to peaceful assembly and to allow protesters to put up a tent for the duration of the rally;
- The Chief Prosecutor’s Office – to launch an investigation in connection with the restriction of the right to peaceful assembly and to bring criminal charges against the individuals who directly participated in the unlawful restriction of the said right using official position.
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
Partnership for Human Rights (PHR)
Human Rights Center
Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia)
Institute for Democracy and Safe Development (IDSD)
Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG)
Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Article 42 of the Constitution
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)
Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF)
 Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, second edition, §18, Warsaw/Strasbourg 2010, ;
 Tabernacle v Secretary of State for Defense , EWCA Civ 23 (05 February 2009);
 Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, §18;
 Judgment No. 2/482,483,487,502 of the Constitutional Court of Georgia of 18 April 2011 in the case of Political union of citizens Movement for United Georgia, political union of citizens Conservative Party of Georgia, citizens Zviad Dzidziguri and Kakha Kukava, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, citizens Dachi Tsaguria and Jaba Jishkariani, Public Defender of Georgia v Parliament of Georgia, § 25;
 Ibid, § 37;
 Ibid, § 34;
 Judgment of the Administrative Panel of the Tbilisi City Court of August 31, 2016, in case No. 3/6463–16.
Non-governmental organizations respond and condemn the xenophobic statement of Salome Zurabishvili, a presidential candidate supported by Georgian Dream.
On October 2, during the pre-election meeting with local ethnic Armenian citizens in Ninotsminda (Samtskhe-Javakheti region), Zurabishvili stated: “Till now, citizenship was granted only by the decision of a president. One of the presidents [Mikheil Saakashvili], whose representative is my opponent, granted citizenship to a lot of Turkish people, but did not give a citizenship to you”.
It should be noted, that state officials, also election candidates and leaders of various political parties often use hate speech and disseminate intentional xenophobic statements, however, the statement of the ruling party- supported the presidential candidate, proves to be extremely alarming, undermining state interests.
The statement also contains the signs of illegal canvassing. According to the Electoral Code of Georgia, the candidates have the right to present a program for their further activity, however the election program shall not contain propaganda for war or violence, appeal for change or overthrow of the existing state and social order by violence, for violation of the territorial integrity of Georgia, for national strife and enmity, or for religious or ethnic confrontation.
We consider, that the above-mentioned statement of the presidential candidate incites hatred, contradicts the principles of liberal democracy and equality, invokes the historic conflict in the modern Georgian political reality and employs all of it against political opponents.
To be noted, this is not the first xenophobic and racist statement disseminated by Salome Zurabishvili. On January 31, 2013, Zurabishvili posted on her Facebook page: “Chinese people never die. Several members of a family use one ID card or passport, who can see any difference? You may think that ten persons have entered [the country], but in reality, 100 persons have crossed the border.” According to her another statement: “Shardeni and Agmashenebeli streets should not be turned into the streets of hookahs.”
We consider that in order to ensure healthy pre-election environment, campaigns should be based on the protection of human rights, equality, and principle of integrity.
The signatories condemn the statement of the Presidential Candidate and consider, that it violates the legislation.
We also call on:
Salome Zurabishvili, all political parties and election candidates to comply with the law and to refrain from making xenophobic, racist and discriminatory statements.
The Election Administration of Georgia
study factual circumstances given in the statement and to take
relevant measures in accordance with Georgian
Civil society organizations and groups working on protection of human rights in Georgia are extremely concerned about the violence and threats committed on homophobic motives against four activists of the organization Equality Movement in Tbilisi. We call on law enforcement agencies to investigate the case in a timely and effective manner in order to address difficult situation with just and human rights-based approach and to restore activities of the Equality Movement.
On the evening of September 28, 2018, an informational meeting was being held in the office of the CSO "Equality Movement" in Tbilisi, which was attended approximately by 30 people. People participating in the meeting were smoking in the backyard of the office of the organization. There is another house in the yard where the neighboring family resides. At around 22:00-22:30 the woman living in the neighboring house addressed guests with yelling and aggressive attitude. Her irritation was caused by the sound of the organization's guests. She threatened the guests in front of the office for several minutes using the following phrases: "We will force you to move out", "You will see what will happen to you soon." Due to this incident, by the decision of “Equality Movement,” the event ended and the organization's staff asked the guests to leave the office. The vast majority of guests left the organization within 20 minutes. At about 23:00, only few employees and guests were left in the office of the organization. Four of them - M.K., S.J., A.B., and M.K., were in front of the office in the street where they were waiting for a taxi. Another four people - V.K., R.K.TS., T.E., and A.U., - went to the back door of the organization to lock it and then walk through the backyard out towards the street. When the four activists were in the yard, a man from a neighboring house approached them. He was verbally insulting them and once he approached, he engaged in physical violence. The attacker was trying to choke one of the activists for a few seconds. In this process, the attacker was cursing, using phrases such as "I will kill you, chickens", "Who gave you the rights" and so on. Suddenly the attacker ran into his house to bring an unidentified item. This situation was witnessed by M. K., who was on the other side of the gate and assisted V.K, R.K, T.E, A.U to open the gate of the backyard while the attacker was in his house. M.K. recorded the video depicting this situation. Soon, the attacker went out of the house towards his car to take something out, while continuing threatening the activists. He was referring to the thing he was planning to take out of the car in the context of the purpose of killing the activists. His family and neighbors tried to stop him. The members and activists of the community suspected that the attacker intended to take out and use a firearm from the car. Due to the fear, the activists hid behind cars.
It is noteworthy that the Ministry of Internal Affairs released a statement on September 29, the day after the incident, which evaluated the incident as a two-sided confrontation. The assessment of the violent incident by the MIA as two-sided confrontation, where the aggressor and the victims are seen as equal sides, misses the accurate evaluation of the legal and social aspects of the nature of such violence and creates room for the suspicion of the bias of the law enforcement authorities. Within the first days of the investigation, without proper examination and study, this statement substantially reduces trust in the ongoing investigation.
The trust towards police and investigation is also negatively affected by the insensitive behavior by the police and emergency doctors who were called on the scene. As witnesses recalled, the patrol officers talked aggressively to the victims, while the doctors were reluctant to report the injuries inflicted on the victims. Also, one of the employees of the "Equality Movement" was cursed by the same neighbors in front of the police. Moreover, the neighbours said that they would not let “faggots” in the precinct. The police did not react to these incidents. This approach is a manifestation of institutionalized homophobic practices by the police, where the police reiterate and discourage discriminatory attitudes revealed by the abuser by ignoring the interests of victims or by negative rhetoric.
The qualification of criminal activity is also problematic. The investigation is under the Article 126 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which indicates violence. It is noteworthy that in addition to the act of violence, the composition of Article 151 of the Criminal Code of Georgia (the threat of life-threatening) can also be seen in the case. The circumstances of the case show that the threat from G.P.’s side caused a genuine fear among the victims and witnesses, but this aspect seems to be ignored by the investigation. In addition, the factual circumstances in the case, in particular, the content of humiliating and offensive appeals from G.P., specifically indicate a homophobic motivation under Article 53 of the Criminal Code, which constitutes an aggravating circumstance of criminal action. Identification of the motive at this stage has a critical importance for complete and proper investigation.
Until now, the aggressor has not been detained by the police. Equality Movement’s office is closed due to the risks of violence and potential escalation of the situation.
Human rights organizations positively assess the reforms launched within the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor's Office, but it is clear that the police system is still not ready to adequately respond to the hate-motivated crimes and its work is still fragmented and oriented on individual incidents. The statement made by the MIA on September 29 also emphasizes the problem of understanding of such crimes in the law enforcement institutions. Considering the social nature and specific context of discriminatory crimes, the law enforcement agencies’ and, more broadly, the government's preventive policies remain weak and unsystematic, which significantly complicates the possibility of preventing such violence.
Obviously, the existing ineffective policy and the problem of homophobic practices and culture in the law enforcement system strengthens the homo/bi/transphobic prejudices existing in the society, creating an environment of impunity and the exclusion of discriminated groups from political and social space.
Considering the above-mentioned assessments, we, the signatory organizations, call on
The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to ensure:
The timely, independent and effective investigation on the attack on "Equality Movement" and its activists by individual persons, including granting victims the status of victims timely, use of appropriate qualifications of the criminal case, as well as revealing homophobic hate motive and reflecting it in the documents. In addition, taking into account the high public interest in the case, to inform the public about the progress and results of the investigation.
In addition, we call on law enforcement agencies to ensure timely and adequate use of preventive measures to enable the NGO "Equity Movement" to be able to carry out its activities in a safe environment.