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No to administrative liability for hurting religious sentiments

By Tatia Megeneishvili
Thursday, November 7
A special article may be added to the Administrative Code against damaging the human belief and religion. The Parliament of Georgia is currently reviewing a bill qualifying public expression of hatred towards sacred objects, religious organizations, clergymen or worshippers by an individual, aimed at hurting religious sentiment, as an administrative offence and one that envisages subsequent administrative liability. According to the project, such action will result in a fine from 300 - 500 GEL, if the action will be repeated by the person the fine will go from 1000 - 1500 GEL, or up to 15 days of jail.

According to the representatives of the civil sector who have urged the parliament against adopting the law, the bill envisages administrative liability in cases when an individual publicly expressed hatred towards the sacred objects, religious organization, clergymen or worshippers by means of a statement or with his/her actions, aimed at hurting religious sentiments of worshippers; or if public expression by an individual displayed signs of religious strife or hatred or contained public call for any such actions.

Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), Institute of Tolerance and Diversity, Article 42 of the Constitution Georgian Democratic Initiative, Transparency International – Georgia, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and other non-government organizations have submitted the statement stressing that the “public access and inclusive nature of discussions about issues of particular public importance and sensitiveness in the legislative body” should be ensured.

According to the signatories, the bill under consideration does not offer any formulation whatsoever that would establish a standard of imminent and essential threat of violence with the intensity that matches an administrative offence during such public expressions.

“We believe that such legal provision, if enacted, will place arbitrary and unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression in terms of its content and will jeopardize free public debates in the society. Placement of such restrictions is especially unacceptable in view of challenges of secularism that require rationalization of public debates and processes related to authority and religion,” reads their statement stressing that the bill falls short of Constitutional and international human rights standards, and is essentially harmful to freedom of expression, and the development of pluralistic, liberal and democratic society in the country.

According to the signatories, the bill is in direct conflict with the international standards of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Georgian Constitutional Court by placing restrictions on freedom of expression.

The Public Defender of Georgia, Ucha Nanuashvili, also addressed the Georgian Parliament members. He said that instead of encouraging pluralism and respect for the different opinions among the public, the bill may deepen confrontation among the religious unions, or people with different faiths and attitudes.

Putting the possibility of the positive outcome of the proposed changes under question, Nanuashvili thinks that it is more likely that freedom of expression and democracy may face a threat. According to the ombudsman, this norm is an expression of non-proportional restriction of the freedom of expression, which is against the Georgian constitution, and the international standards of human rights protection. Thus, based on these threats, the Georgian Public Defender addresses the Georgian Parliament to reject the adoption of the bill.