Tbilisi City Hall should not restrict the right of political parties to assemble and protest
At the end of June 2020, the political party "Giorgi Vashadze - the Strategy Aghmashenebeli" began collecting signatures demanding a halving of interest rates on bank loans. For this purpose, small tents were set up near Tbilisi metro stations. Starting from June, Tbilisi City Hall has imposed the fines of over GEL 70,000 on the political party for these actions. We believe that the sanctions imposed on the party by the City Hall violate the freedom of assembly and protest and hampers this political party’s pre-election campaign.
The political party "Giorgi Vashadze - the Strategy Aghmashenebeli" has been collecting signatures since the end of June as part of its pre-election campaign to submit a legislative initiative to the parliament to regulate bank loans. The legislative initiative requires the signatures of 25,000 voters, for which party representatives set up light construction tents in crowded areas of the city, where citizens were given the opportunity to sign up to support the party initiative.
The Municipal Inspection of the City Hall considered the setting up of tents for signing as a violation of Article 1503 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (arbitrary change of the appearance of Tbilisi Municipality) and started imposing sanctions on the party. From June to date, protocols of violation in the amount of GEL 70,000 have been drawn up, to which new fines are added daily.
For correct interpretation of the law it is important that the political party has organized a protest against unregulated bank loans, for which it collects signatures, which is also a form of protest and at the same time can acquire the form of a petition.
Placing a tent during a protest rally is considered legal by common court practice, unless it blocks an administrative building or sidewalk. For example, the Tbilisi Court of Appeals in its decision #3b / 170-18 of February 9, 2018, clarifies that “[a person] is guaranteed by law with the right to express his/her opinion publicly and peacefully in that part of the street and in the form he/she deems appropriate. It is possible to express an opinion not only through speeches, statements, but also in a silent form or by building temporary constructions, if it does not contradict the current legislation." In 2016, in the case of Guerrilla Gardening, when the organization was asking to set up a tent in the square of their choice in front of the Tbilisi City Hall, the Administrative Board of the City Court gave a similar interpretation of the law: “The right of assembly and protest includes the right to choose the place, time, form, and content of the assembly, which considers it possible to place temporary constructions." The law is explained in the same way in the decision #3 / 6098-18 of December 3, 2018, of the Administrative Board of the Tbilisi City Court, where the case concerned the legality of setting up a tent in front of the Parliament.
Therefore, the placement of tents by the political party "Giorgi Vashadze - the Strategy Aghmashenebeli" to protest is completely in line with the Law on Assemblies and Manifestations and imposing fines of tens of thousands of GEL is a violation of the right of assembly and protest and hampers the election campaign of the political party.
We call on Tbilisi City Hall to follow the Law on Assemblies and Manifestations and stop imposing fines on the political party "Giorgi Vashadze - the Strategy Aghmashenebeli", as well as to repeal the protocols on administrative violations that have already been drawn up.