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NGOs criticise draft amendments to law on rallies

By Mzia Kupunia
Thursday, July 16
The Group of Human Rights NGOs has called on the Georgian Government to preclude hasty discussion of the law on Manifestations, Police and Administrative Offences. “The draft amendments represent a step back in the democratic development of the country,” the Group’s statement released on July 14 reads.

“The term of detention is being increased without any justification and strict sanctions are being imposed for offences which are less than dangerous for society. The possibility of using non-lethal weapons is being proposed without any detailed regulation of this and freedom of assembly is being pressurised disproportionately,” the representatives of the NGOs state, adding that the draft changes indicate that the Government is not going to resolve the current crisis through dialogue, but on the contrary is planning to make the confrontation more acute and create the danger of more violence. The NGOs are planning to create a working group which will undertake a “large-scale campaign” against the draft project, which passed its first hearing last week. The next hearing of it is scheduled for July 15.

The Christian Democratic Party, which is part of the Parliamentary minority, held a session on Wednesday at which the draft amendments package was discussed. The Christian Democrats demanded that it be recalled. They say that first the Venice Commission should study the amendments and only after this should discussion of the project be continued. The Christian Democrats also demand that an amendment is adopted which will grant the possibility of appealing against administrative punishment.

Military expert Irakli Aladashvili, who also attended the session on Wednesday, said that neither acoustic weapons nor the FN-303, which is used to shoot mixed bullets, can be considered non-lethal weapons, because they do endanger human life and are officially listed as ‘less lethal’ weapons. He added that both the abovementioned weapons were used on November 7, 2007 and May 6, 2009. National Movement MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Legal Issues Pavle Kublashvili said that there is no accepted definition of what a non-lethal weapon is, however he expressed readiness to hold further consultations on this issue.

The co-rapporteurs of the European Council Parliamentary Assembly Monitoring Committee, Matyas Eorsi and Kastriot Islami, have said it is necessary to hold consultations with the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal and constitutional issues, concerning the proposed law changes. Eorsy and Islami hailed the statement of Georgian Parliament Speaker David Bakradze that he would do this. “Freedom of assembly and expression are crucial for a democracy. It is thus essential that any amendments to these laws are in conformity with European standards,” Matyas Eorsi and Kastriot Islami stated.

The draft package was initiated by a group of ruling party lawmakers. It envisages making 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.

The Georgian Public Defender’s office has described the draft amendments as “non democratic”. Government officials say the amendments will only “clarify” the existing law. Pavle Kublashvili has told journalists that obstructing the movement of public transport on purpose is banned under the current law, but it has been decided to “clarify” this even more. Kublashvili said it is necessary to define what “deliberate blocking of the street” means. “It means blocking traffic by putting some kind of obstacle on the street. Barricading streets is not allowed in any country,” Kublashivili noted. “In the future the blocking of roads with cells or other constructions will be addressed accordingly and appropriate measures will be taken by law enforcers,” he said.