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Authorities seek to tighten assembly laws

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, June 16
New limitations will be imposed on participants of protests courtesy of new amendments being made to the law on assembly and manifestations. The proposed alterations were presented to the Parliament by majority MPs, on June 15, and have already heavily criticized by parliamentary and non parliamentary opposition representatives.

According to the proposed law, produced by MPs: Pavle Kublashvili, Akaki Minashvili, Chiora Taktakishvili and Kakha Anjaparidze, the assembly or manifestation participants will be banned from: having weapons, ammunition, explosive material, tear gas, radio active or poisonous material, cold arms or other equipment that can be used to damage persons and alcohol. Deliberate obstruction of traffic will also be prohibited. Rights of local residents and street traders would be protected during manifestations or assemblies. According to the amendments to the law on assembly and manifestations, a corresponding department will be obliged to protect the balance of freedom of assembly and rights of people who live, work or have business at the location of the protest. Alternative times and locations for holding the protest may be offered if, at first, a planned protest is refused. Based on the draft the government will have the right to interfere in manifestations in emergency situations. According to the addition to the law, rallies will however be allowed to block traffic if the number of participants is so high that it would be impossible to do otherwise. The local government will have the authority to decide whether or not a protest will be able to take place amid moving traffic.

Tbilisi City Assembly member, Republican Tinatin Khidasheli considers that amendments to the law on assembly and manifestation are not constitutional. She said Republicans are concerned by the recent tendency in parliament where, after every mass protest, laws are made stricter and limit the constitutional rights of manifestations. Khidasheli says that the 9th article is totally against the Georgian constitution; as such the restriction of freedom of assembly is not foreseen by the constitution, neither by the European convention nor any other international acts.

She says that protests and manifestations are always held in any country in places where people work or live, outside the governmental buildings. Nobody protests in deserts, so it will be impossible not to protest where people walk, as governmental TV channels will always find a person saying that their business is encountering problems.

Khidasheli says that the 10th article of the project is not constitutional. The issue of changing the location is automatically discussed if the protest hinders the operation of the institution. It is almost a 100% guarantee that permission to hold a manifestation will be refused.

Khidasheli says that the 11th article is comical and incomprehensible, particularly the part concerning attacking buildings.

“According to the project, it is possible to close the street only if a sufficient amount of people attends the protests, though when the amount is considered enough it is incomprehensible and can be interpreted differently. Considering the 20-meter radius principles in the law, for instance, in case of protesting in front of Tbilisi City Hall, a protest with 200-300 people will be sufficient to partially close the street and in front of Supreme Court, 50 people are enough to fully block the street. So it’s not clear when and what criteria will be used by the government”, she said.

The draft law was also criticized by Our Georgia-Free Democrats , as the member of the party ,

Levan Izoria said that Free Democrats have a strict position regarding the changes and if this bill were to be adopted by parliament in this form, then they will file a complaint in the constitutional court.

According to the leader of Democratic Movement-United Georgia, Nino Burjanadze, if this bill is confirmed it will be impossible to hold any protest and manifestation in Georgia soon, “The process of turning the country into a mini Soviet Union takes place and only the people’s activity can stop this. Otherwise we’ll have a dictatorship soon, where nobody will feel secure.”

The draft turned unacceptable for the Parliamentary Minority as well, according to the Leader of the Movement, Giorgi Targamadze, “this fact is a confirmation that the current authorities are trying to fix justice and the constitution on their own interests.”

As analyst Irakli Sesiashvili told The Messenger, the project presented to the Parliament is against the Georgian constitution and international norms at the same time. He has also made appeals towards the authorities and opposition through our newspaper, “during the last several years the current authorities have been fighting against the results and not reasons. Several large scale manifestations have been held in the country during these years with the demand of real democracy, free court system and so on, however the Government does not intend to address the reasons for such manifestations. On the contrary, it fights against the results. The result is the discomfort they felt during the demonstrations and now they are trying to adopt such changes which make holding manifestations extremely difficult, “the analyst said and appealed to the authorities to recognize directly that there is a dictatorial regime in the country. As for the appeal to the opposition, “if the Georgian opposition has any dignity and self respect they should organize large scale manifestation to stand against such anti constitutional and provocative steps from the authority’s side and not be limited to just critical statements from their tribunes.”