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Opposition slams draft law on protests

By Mzia Kupunia
Thursday, July 9
The opposition has criticised the new package of draft amendments to the laws on Rallies and Manifestations, Police and Administrative Offences, calling it a “step back towards dictatorship”. The draft package was presented by a group of ruling party lawmakers and would make artificially blocking roads illegal. It would ban any blocking of roads with cars or other devices and says that partial or complete blocking of roads would be allowed only if the number of demonstrators is great enough to block the street and it is impossible to hold a rally without blocking the road because of the number of demonstrators.

The draft amendments would also allow the police to use non-lethal weapons. Under the present law, the police are entitled to use tear gas, water cannon and rubber batons. If the package of amendments is passed, rubber bullets and other types of non-lethal projectiles will be added to this list.

Non-Parliamentary opposition members, representatives of diplomatic corps, NGOs and the Georgian Public Defender held a special round table meeting on July 6 dedicated to the draft amendments. “These changes to the law will create a new wave of repression,” Eka Beselia, from the Movement for United Georgia, said before the meeting. “This is not a way to democracy, it is moving towards dictatorship,” Beselia added. Manana Nachkhebia from the New Rights Party said the amendments are “unacceptable” for a civilized state. “There are many articles in the law which restrict the freedom of expression and also the freedom of protest. This Government, which came to power through protests, now says it is unacceptable to fight against it the same way. This prevents citizens fighting for justice,” she added.

Georgian Public Defender Sozar Subari called the draft amendments package a “step back”. “The draft project initiated by the ruling party is not compatible with the Georgian Constitution and the European Convention. I agree that some things should be specified in relation to the Constitution, however I don’t agree with the draft package as it is,” Subari said.

Some opposition politicians have suggested that “if the Government does not allow people to express their opinions through an election in a civilized way, this will cause public discontent.” Speaking to journalists before the meeting, the leader of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia Nino Burjanadze said, “The Government is trying to lock all the doors of democracy and leave no chance for anyone to change the Government in a civilized manner through elections.” Burjanadze expressed confidence that European institutions will give an “acute reaction” to the draft changes.

The “radical” opposition leaders have said that “none of these draft laws can stop us”. “These changes are a serious step towards dictatorship,” former Presidential Candidate Levan Gachechiladze has said. “They force society to start a confrontation. The rallies will carry on until there is violence from the Government. As long as there is protest in society, the rallies will go on,” Gachechiladze stated.

Ruling party officials have said they will not give the opposition the opportunity to start an “unhealthy hustle and bustle” about the draft amendments. MP Pavle Kublashvili, one of the MPs who initiated the package, said the new rules will come into force, but the exact date is yet to be decided. He said the amendments outlined in the package don’t concern the rallies now going on in the capital. “Nobody is going to attack the rallies, especially now, when the opposition have shown their real faces,” the National Movement MP added.

The Government sees no other way out of the current situation but leaning towards authoritarianism and even dictatorship, political analysts say. “When there is a protest in the public and it has certain demands, the Government has two options: to meet these demands and compromise, or ignore them and start taking aggressive actions,” political analist Gia Khukhashvili told The Messenger. “This draft package is not directed against the opposition, it is directed against society. The administration will not use repressive mechanisms until US Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit to Tbilisi is over. Our Government will try to show the US administration how democratic and progressive they are. However I think that the approach of the Omaba administration will be somewhat different from that of President Bush,” the analyst stated.