Initial Monitoring Results of April 16-17 Protests

The Public Defender of Georgia echoes the use of force and special equipment by law enforcement officers in the vicinity of the Parliament on the night of April 16-17, 2024, and publishes the initial monitoring results:

Violation of freedom of assembly

The monitoring revealed cases of groundless interference with freedom of peaceful assembly:[1]

  • In the evening hours of April 16, after law enforcement officers ensured, by arranging a special exit, that Members of Parliament could leave the Parliament area, protesters were restricted from approaching the back entrance and expressing their protest in this manner;[2] The Public Defender explains that one of the most important elements of freedom of assembly is freedom to choose the location of the assembly, which is especially important if the specific place/building is the object of the protest or if expressing views on a specific location is the most effective way to reach the addressee of the opinion or protest. This standard should be respected in all cases, unless there is an insurmountable reason for imposing a specific restriction.
  • In the evening hours of April 16, the situation became tense several times. Law enforcement officers used the so-called pepper spray even when protesters approached them in a non-violent manner. In some cases, peaceful participants were chased in order to force them to leave the territory.[3] The Public Defender points out that such actions clearly constitute an unjustified interference with freedom of assembly;
  • After the use of the so-called pepper spray, a warning signal[4] was issued and the Ministry of Internal Affairs called on the protesters to disperse. At the time of the warning, the rally had a peaceful character and there was no reason to call the participants to disperse. The Public Defender especially points out that isolated incidents of alleged violence are not enough to consider the entire assembly violent. Such a warning has a chilling effect on the enjoyment of freedom of assembly, as it can deter people with common ideas and interests from expressing their opinions openly. In addition, it should be noted that unjustified use of force lead to artificial escalation of the situation.

Alleged ill-treatment and the rights of the detainees

The footage spread by mass media clearly show the use of disproportionate force by the riot police against citizens.[5]

The Public Defender emphasizes that the authority of law enforcement officers to use proportional force to prevent violations of the law should not be misused for the purpose of punishing or intimidating participants in the rally and should not take on a violent nature.

Contrary to the above, some of the released footage show active violence against citizens by law enforcement officers, which must be necessarily followed by a timely and effective investigation.

In addition, during the night hours of April 16 and the daytime of April 17, the Public Defender and his representatives were actively meeting the detainees placed in temporary isolation centers. They visited all the persons detained during the April 16 rally. In particular, the representatives of the Public Defender visited 16 persons (two of them were in the clinic at the time of the visit and according to the information provided to the Office, they were released conditionally after signing the relevant papers). In addition, on April 17, the Public Defender personally visited 18 detainees, including those detained at the April 15 rally.

11 out of 16 people indicated ill-treatment, use of disproportionate force, and demanded a response. The Public Defender’s Office immediately reported all the cases to the Special Investigation Service about and the Office will monitor the effectiveness of the investigation.

In addition, 3 persons spoke about the circumstances of ill-treatment, although they requested to keep the information confidential and refused a response.

Violence against journalists

The cases of physical violence against individual journalists at the rally, as well as the interference with the activities of Imedi TV company journalists, are disturbing. According to reports, members of the special task force physically abused Publica journalist Aleksandre Keshelashvili and took away his phone, which was later returned to him. The footage clearly shows how the journalist was beaten. In addition, information was spread about physical violence against Tabula journalist Giorgi Badridze, whose phone was also taken away. Other reports refer to the beating and verbal abuse of Giorgi Baskhajauri, a journalist of April Media.

It should be emphasized that journalists should be given the opportunity to carry out their activities without obstruction, including from the participants in the assembly. According to Article 154 of the Criminal Law Code of Georgia, illegal interference with the journalist’s professional activities shall be punishable. The crime is even more serious when journalists are physically abused because of their work. Similar incidents pose a significant threat to the quality of media freedom in the country, contain a dangerous message that media representatives may be subject to retribution for their activities, and thus have a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of expression by them.

The Public Defender calls on the Special Investigation Service to respond promptly and strictly to all the above-mentioned cases and to inform the public about the progress of the investigation. The appropriate response of investigative agencies is of crucial importance both for the enforcement of the rule of law in individual cases and for the creation of a safe environment for media representatives and peaceful protesters in general.

[1] "Peaceful assembly" shall be interpreted so that to include activities that may annoy or offend anyone, or to temporarily obstruct or interfere with the activities of third parties. According to the definition of the UN Human Rights Committee, for example, simply pushing a person should not be considered violence during the assembly. It should be noted that expressing protest in an intense form is often the only or most effective way to attract the attention of the authorities and/or society. Any assembly in a public place may cause a certain amount of disruption of the usual rhythm of life, however, this does not justify interference with the right. Therefore, when there is a peaceful assembly, the State should show some degree of tolerance towards it.

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