Meidani Square, Tbilisi. Photo: Viktor Kochetkov/ Shutterstock.com
Georgian Dream passes new anti-protest amendments
Georgia’s ruling party has passed controversial amendments to the country’s law on protest, which critics warn will severely restrict freedom of assembly. The amendments were proposed following claims by the country’s security service that international groups aimed to incite violent civil unrest in the country later this year.
On October 5, the parliament endorsed the amendment to the Law on Assemblies and Manifestations that the ruling party rushed through in an accelerated procedure. 74 MPs voted for and 22 against. The law, critics say, will provide the police with more powers to curtail the freedom of assembly.
The law, if adopted, would prohibit participants of any assembly or demonstration from setting up “temporary structures” (such as tents, shacks, etc.) if: Setting them up poses a threat to the participants of the assembly or demonstration or other persons; Interferes with the protection of public order and security by the police; Disrupts the normal functioning of the enterprise, institution, or organisation; Without these structures, the holding of the assembly or demonstration is not substantially impeded, and/or its organisation of the assembly or protest is not related to the holding of a rally. Failure to comply would lead to a fine of 500 GEL and, in cases of severe violations, detention for a duration of up to 15 days.
The recently enacted legislation is commonly dubbed by opposition and activists the “New Russian Law.” Some activists staged a protest in front of the parliament building on the evening of October 5. Demonstrators erected tents and remained overnight, demanding that Georgia’s President, Salome Zourabishvili, veto the legislation.
Two people were arrested during the rally. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, they were detained for administrative offences under Article 166. In addition, law enforcement officials barred Lazare Grigoriadis’ father, Beka Grigoriadis, and his brother, Kakha Grigoriadis, from the area. According to those gathered near the parliament, there was a verbal altercation between the police and the rally participants, after which Beka and Kakha Grigoriadis were taken away by police patrol cars. Whether they have been detained or just removed from the scene remains unknown.
The ruling party MPs tabled their initiative days after Georgia’s State Security Service (SSG) announced that they were investigating a coup being plotted by a group including Ukraine’s deputy director of counterintelligence, Georgian volunteers fighting against Russia in Ukraine, and a former bodyguard of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili.
SSG claimed that in the event that the EU refused to grant Georgia membership candidacy status later this year, those involved planned to organise a “city of tents” in Tbilisi between October and December, allegedly additionally planning to detonate a bomb in one of the tents during street protests to incite violent unrest.
“It has been established that the organisers are considering implementing in Georgia a scenario similar to Euromaidan in Ukraine in 2014”, the SSG claimed on September 18, referring to the wave of protests that followed then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision not to sign an association agreement with the European Union, in favour of closer ties with Russia. Yanukovych and his government were ousted after three months of protests.
After opposition-aligned media chastised the SSG for failing to provide evidence for its assertion, it held a briefing on October 2 at which it accused the US Agency for International Development (USAID) of training Georgian activists how to plan a revolution. It stated that an investigation into the matter was ongoing.
At the briefing, the SSG released footage that it described as showing three members of the Serbian Canvas group, brought to Georgia by USAID, teaching activists how to enact violent unrest and regime change. The voices heard in the footage describe their experience of protest and activism and strategic approaches to protest.
The US Embassy in Georgia reacted to the accusations made by the SSG against the USAID: “Allegations made publicly today against one of our assistance projects are false and fundamentally mischaracterise the goals of our assistance to Georgia. USAID has been supporting the Georgian people since 1992. As always, our assistance is transparent, and we welcome any opportunities to discuss any concerns the government may have.
The Public Defender of Georgia, Levan Ioseliani, released a statement on October 4 and emphasised that the amendments “represent an intense interference with freedom of expression/assembly, which restricts the expression of opinion by using temporary constructions (for example a tent).