Public Defender’s Statement on Facts of Restriction of Freedom of Assembly

On 20 July representatives of the Public Defender attended court sessions of one of the organizers of the Stop Russia event and 10 individuals detained at the rally held against the Panorama Tbilisi project.

On July 18 police officers arrested one of the organizers of the Stop Russia event - Tabula TV producer Alexi Machavariani - before the start of the event in front of the Governmental Administration building. Verbal abuse of police officers and disobedience to their legal demand was named as a motive for detention. In particular, law enforcers stated that Machavariani did not withdraw a truck loaded with stage equipments from the area of the Governmental Administration. However, they failed to present any evidence proving that the truck impeded movement of pedestrians or violated traffic rules. Law enforcers also claimed that Alexi Machavariani’s phrase – “shameful police” – was petty hooliganism.

The Public Defender welcomes the court decision to cease administrative proceedings against Aleksi Machavariani. We would also like to note that police officers, the duty of which is to protect public order, must themselves show compliance with the law. Their actions should not raise doubts about arbitrary behavior. It is unfortunate that police officers regarded the phrase - “shameful police” – a critical assessment of their behavior – as petty hooliganism, according to the protocol of administrative violations drawn up by them, and thus extremely limited the scope of freedom of speech. We hope that the above-mentioned decision of the court will positively affect future activities of police.

On July 19 police arrested 10 people for carrying posters at the rally held against the Panorama Tbilisi project. One of the posters compared the Panorama Tbilisi project to male genitals. According to police officers, the poster represented an administrative violation, in particular, minor hooliganism. They drew up protocols on administrative violations, which were submitted to the court for taking a final decision. The law enforcers also stated that the words written on the poster were pronounced by demonstrators aloud, though they failed to present any relevant evidence of it.

The law on Freedom of Speech and Expression allows regulation of the content of speech and expression only in case of direct personal insult or obscenity. However, the posters did not personally abuse anyone; therefore, they could not be regarded as petty hooliganism. The Public Defender believes that the poster did not contain any obscenity either, since it had social protest context and thus had political value. The court has not yet made a decision on the case. However, the Public Defender expresses hope that the decision will be based on standards of human rights and will protect freedom of expression.

It should be noted that 4 women out of 10 individuals arrested at the Panorama Tbilisi rally were released on the same day, while 6 men were left in a temporary detention center. According to one of the women, police named their gender as a motive for release. If confirmed, such an attitude of law enforcers is completely unacceptable and may indicate that application of the measure of detention was absolutely unnecessary in the given case.

It should also be noted that facts of hampering the freedom of assembly and manifestations by law enforcers have recently become frequent. On June 12 the Public Defender released his latest statement about one of such incidents that took place in Heydar Aliyev Park. The above-mentioned facts may refer to unhealthy tendency, which needs urgent attention from legislative and executive authorities. Freedom of assembly and manifestations must be ensured for everyone, while actions of law enforcers must be guided only by the law and should promote respect for and observance of human rights.

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