Government Continues to Use Justice System as a Tool of Repression against Activists - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო
GEO

Government Continues to Use Justice System as a Tool of Repression against Activists

08 April, 2022

Tbilisi City Court imposed a fine worth GEL 34 300 in total on 16 individuals arrested at a rally in solidarity with Ukraine. It includes a GEL 15 800 fine imposed by judge Manuchar Tsatsua on six activists from the Shame Movement on 6 April 2022. The unlawful administrative arrest and unsubstantiated court decision have resulted in gross violation of the rights of activists and restriction of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Lawyers from the undersigned NGOs and civic movements defended the activists of the Shame Movement at the trial. A number of violations have been identified in the case, including:

  • The police arrested the activists arbitrarily, without relevant evidence and grounds. Zuka Berdzenishvili, Guri Goliadze, Giga Makarashvili, Giorgi Mzhavanadze, Nodar Rukhadze and Aleksandre Samkharadze were arrested for disorderly conduct and disobedience to police.
  • The arrestees were not read their rights. The arrestees were not informed about the essence and ground of arrest, as well as their rights to have a lawyer and to inform relatives about their whereabouts.
  • The arrest protocols were formulaic and uninformative. The protocols contained just a general reference to the offence. Moreover, during the trial, it was established that the testimonies of police officers conflicted with the protocols drawn up by them.
  • The police used the maximum term of detention unlawfully, without any substantiation. Although the police were required to bring the arrestees before a judge within 24 hours, they extended the detention period up to 48 hours arbitrarily, without a relevant purpose and substantiation.
  • The court disregarded the minimum standards of a fair trial, set by the European Court of Human Rights. The court failed to ensure the adversarial procedure and equality of arms. The defence was not allowed to summon for questioning police officials, Lasha Jokhadze and Lasha Salukvadze, who had a direct connection to the case.
  • Evidence examined in the court was insufficient for the imposition of an administrative penalty on the activists. The testimonies given by questioned police officers were conflicting and untrustworthy.
  • Although five out of the six police officers questioned at the court, confirmed that their body-worn cameras were turned on when the activists were arrested, the recordings of those cameras were not presented to the court, whereas none of the other videos presented by the police proved the fact of offence.

Despite the above-listed circumstances, the court ignored the presumption of innocence as well as the burden of proof and subsequently declared the activists guilty. The decision is especially problematic because these offences imply either imprisonment or a fine, the amount of which is several times higher than the average monthly salary in Georgia. Furthermore, the Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR believe that a disproportionate sanction, including a large fine, may violate the right to freedom of assembly and have a chilling effect that may discourage people from participating in assemblies and manifestations and expressing their protest in future.[1] Moreover, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly underlined that the use of disproportionately harsh sanctions may have a chilling effect.[2] 

It is worth noting that the current Administrative Offences Code cannot ensure adequate protection of the right to a fair trial and citizens often become victims of unreasoned and selective justice. Civil society organizations and human rights defenders have been long advocating a systemic reform of the Code; however, instead of improving the standards and procedural guarantees, administrative fines for disorderly conduct and disobedience to police have been increased several times in the past few years.

The continuation of such vicious practices by law enforcement and court authorities indicates the government’s intention to restrict the freedom of expression by applying unlawful detentions and imposing harsh fines, to deliver a serious financial blow to activists and discourage them from expressing their protest.

 

Transparency International Georgia

Georgian Democracy Initiative

Social Justice Center

Democracy Defenders


[1] European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) and Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly (3rd Edition), 8 July 2019, para. 36 https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2019)017-e  [last accessed on 07.04.2022]

[2] ECtHR, Guide on Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Freedom of Assembly and Association (1st edition) 31 August 2019, paras. 74-78 https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Guide_Art_11_ENG.pdf [last accessed on 07.04.2022]

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