NGO statement – fundamental right to assembly and manifestations once again violated

On March 25 the patrol police officers dispersed a peaceful protest rally held in support of prisoners at the Ministry of Corrections, Probation and Legal Assistance. Seven participants of the rally, in particular Giorgi Burjanadze, Vladimir Sadgobelashvili, Merab Chikashvili, Otar Bekauri, Akaki Chikovani, Besik Tabatadze and Giorgi Kharabadze were detained under the charges of the breached administrative law.

We protest this fact. We believe that the dispersal of the rally and detention of the participants is violation of the right to assembly and manifestations and contradicts provisions of the law due to the following reasons:

1. A prior notification on holding the rally was delivered to the City Hall in adherence to the requirements of the law; 
2. The blockage of the public thoroughfare was natural, due to the amount of rally participants and that for a short period of time, the evidence of witnesses interrogated at the trial substantiates the aforementioned; 
3. The patrol police officers were not entitled to demand participants to cease the rally even in case of the breached law since it is the prerogative of the local self-government body according to paragraph 4 of Article 111 of the Georgian Law on Assembly and Manifestations; 
4. In the course of the trial the patrol police officers said they showed no concern whether the rally was legitimate and whether the rally participants had a right to block the public thoroughfare. Upon the arrival at the scene, the police officers said, they started dispersing the rally; 
5. In case of the breached law by the rally participants the representative of the local self-government body was to demand the thoroughfare to be deblocked – which did not happen and the law enforcers, without any warning, started violent oppression of the rally participants.

The right to assembly and manifestations implies the state obligation to tolerate. According to the case law of the European Court of human Rights a short-term impedance of movement at even by a small group of people gives no right to the dispersal of the protest rally and the detention of its participants.

In addition to the right to assembly and manifestations the right of fair court was violated too, in particular:

1. The court apportioned lawyers only 15 minutes to familiarize themselves with the case-related materials and talk to detainees. The time, of course, was not sufficient to get familiarized with the case and talk to the detained and witnesses;
2. The court dismissed defendants’ motion on the audio record of the trial even though neither the patrol police officers objected the request; 
3. The court dismissed defendants’ motion on getting familiarized with the video material filmed by Kavkasia TV and radio union Objective cameramen. The footage included violent dispersal of the rally participants and their detention. 
4. The court dismissed motion on the request and introduction to the footage made by the surveillance camera installed at the premises of the Ministry of Corrections, Probation and Legal Assistance. 
5. The court defied all of the evidences provided by witnesses in the course of the trial. According to their allegations there was no breach of law and the court acted following the evidences by the patrol police staff and the protocols on offenses. 
6. The court showed unequal treatment to the detainees: Vladimir Sadgobelashvili and Giorgi Kharebava were arrested after the completion of the rally, about a kilometer away of the rally venue, under the equal circumstances, though radically different punitive measures were applied, in particular: Vladimir Sadgobelashvili was imposed a fine of GEL 400 while Giorgi Kharebava was sentenced to 20 days in jail.

Judge Nana Daraselia of the Collegium of Administrative Cases of Tbilisi City Court sentenced Merab Chikashvili and Giorgi Kharabadze to 20 days in jail. Akaki Chikovani was sentenced to a prison term of 10 days. The remaining four detainees such as Giorgi Burjanadze, Otar Bekauri, Vladimir Sadgobelashvili and Besik Tabatadze were imposed a penalty of GEL 400.

We, signatory organizations, believe that the dispersal of the rally as well as administrative penalties for the rally participants is a violation of human rights and a breach of law.

In the recent period Georgian society has repeatedly witnessed illicit restriction of the right to assembly and manifestations by the police. The aforementioned police actions are the violation of the criminal law and adequate response to the offenses is of vital importance for the democratic development of the country. We consider it alarming that the citizens are almost fully restricted a right to assembly and manifestations and most of the rallies of the kind result into dispersal and illegal detentions by the police staff. We urge the Georgian government and international community to make an adequate response to the aforementioned cases. 
Signatories:

1. Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) – Tamar Chugoshvili; 
2. Civil Ombudsman – Irina Putkaradze; 
3. Coalition for Civil Development – Manana Kobakhidze; 
4. Healthy Universe – Zurab Putkaradze; 
5. Association Justice and Freedom – Irakli Sesiashvili; 
6. Regional Media Association – Ia Mamaladze; 
7. International Center for Geopolitical Studies – Tengiz Pkhaladze; 
8. Human Rights Center – Ucha Nanuashvili; 
9. Article 42 of the Constitution –  Nazi Janezashvili; 
10. Youth for Justice – Nika Kvaratskhelia; 
11. International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) – Eka Siradze; 
12. Caucasus Women’s Network – Nino Tsikhistavi; 
13. Free Choice – Manana Bitsadze; 
14. Research Center for Elections and Political Technologies – Kakha Kakhishvili; 
15. Union 21st Century – Paata Gachechiladze; 
16. Expert Zaal Japaridze; 
17. Multinational Georgia – Arnold Stepanyan; 
18.  International Center on Conflict and Negotiation (ICCN)- Giorgi Khutsishvili;
19. Human Rights Priority – Lia Mukhashavria; 
20. Transparency International – Georgia-  Maka Gigauri.

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