Transparency International Georgia and The Georgian Young Lawyers' Association comment on the yesterday’s developments in the Parliament - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

Transparency International Georgia and The Georgian Young Lawyers' Association comment on the yesterday’s developments in the Parliament

20 January, 2014

Yesterday, on December 26, 2013, Parliament was discussing at its plenary session the Government’s proposal to postpone the enactment of the new rule of witness interrogation envisaged by the Criminal Procedure Code for two more years, at which the representatives of Transparency International Georgia and the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association were not allowed to express their silent protest against the Government's proposal through displaying banners. The banners displayed in the meeting room read: "Human rights cannot wait for two more years ", "Protect the Right to Protect", and "Say No to Postponement."

Although the conduct of the representatives of our organizations did not impede the work of the Parliament, the bailiffs removed the posters arbitrarily and in a rude manner, forcing our representatives to leave the hall. While our employees were being withdrawn from the hall, Manana Kobakhidze, the chairperson of the plenary session, noted that, according to the Parliament Rules of Procedure, visitors wishing to display banners should obtain a special permission thereof in advance.

We would like to clarify that Transparency International Georgia and The Georgian Young Lawyers' Association representatives acted within Articles 24 and 25 of the Constitution protecting freedom of expression and assembly which also include the right to  expression and dissemination orally, in writing or otherwise, as well as peaceful gathering indoors or outdoors. Our representatives have not bypassed the requirements of the law and order during the plenary session and have not hindered Parliament or any Member of Parliament in carrying out their public functions. They were trying to use the right to express their attitude towards the draft law, which, taking into account the forms of protest used, is fully protected during the draft law hearings. According to Article 290, paragraph 2 of the Georgian Parliament Rules of Procedure, the only time this is disallowed is during the voting procedure. Under the above norm, persons present at the hearing at the time of the voting shall refrain from expressing their personal attitudes towards the outcome. Our protest occurred at least 2 hours prior to voting. Nonetheless, the chairperson of the meeting, Mrs. Kobakhidze, stated incorrectly that representatives of non-governmental organizations acted in violation of the Rules of Procedure. The bailiffs damaged our organizations’ banners and forced our representatives to leave the hall.

Moreover, paragraph one of Article 9 of the Law on Gatherings and Manifestations strictly defines the list of government institutions in which protests are unacceptable. The Parliament is not included in the list of those institutions. Under the fourth paragraph of Article 9 of the above Law, an administrative body (in this case Parliament ) is entitled to request to hold the gathering at a distance from its building if it causes blockage of the building or impedes the functioning of the institution. Mrs. Manana Kobakhitze did not substantiate in what way did the posters displayed in the parliament building hindered its unimpeded functioning.

Our position is that it is unacceptable to interpret the Parliament Rules of Procedure or any other law in general in a way that would prevent the parties involved in the Parliament activities to express differing opinions. It is equally unacceptable to ignore the fundamental values ​​of the Georgian Constitution and to blatantly violate the freedom of expression and assembly.

The Civil Society representatives stated their starkly negative position towards the noted initiative at the committee hearings as well. In addition, the coalition of NGOs released several statements calling on the Georgian Parliament and government not to postpone the enactment of the new rule of witness interrogation. Notwithstanding repeated appeals by civil society representatives, the Parliament, nevertheless, put the government proposal to vote and extended the enactment of the new progressive rule of witness interrogation until December 31, 2015.

Unfortunately, the Parliament ignored the concerns expressed by the NGO sector and disregarded all our recommendations. Similar decisions will have an extremely negative impact on establishing high standards of human rights in the country and will unjustifiably prolong the inequality of parties in criminal proceedings.

We, therefore, call on the President of Georgia to use his power of veto to prevent the extension of the validity of these unjust rules.