The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has delivered a verdict on a case “Makarashvili and Others v. Georgia.” The applicants alleged that their rights to freedom of assembly and to a fair trial have been violated during the demonstration on 18 November 2019.
Three activists – Giorgi Makarashvili, Zuka Berdzenishvili and Irakli Kacharava – complained that their arrest at a demonstration and their ensuing conviction for the administrative offence of disobeying the lawful orders of the police had been in breach of Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 11 (Freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Eduard Marikashvili, head of a local human rights watchdog, Georgian Democracy Initiative, defended their rights in court.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in its judgment dated September 1 that there had been no violation of Makarashvili’s and Berdzenishvili’s rights. As regards to Kacharava, the court noted that his rights were violated under both Articles 6 and 11 of the Convention. The Strasbourg court ruled that Georgia has to pay Kacharava EUR 1,600 in respect of nonpecuniary damage.
As regards to Article 11, the European Court clarified that the Government of Georgia did not demonstrate that the November 18 rally had been intended to be violent, had incited violence, or had become violent at the time when the decision to arrest the applicants had been taken. Nor does the domestic courts’ reasoning suggest this, the court added.
The court, however, stressed that the disputed gathering, as admitted by applicants, blockaded the Parliament building and aimed at obstructing the legislative process.
The Court considers that, even though Makarashvili and Brdzenishvili had neither carried out acts of violence, nor incited others to engage in such acts, “the complete obstruction of the entrances to the Parliament’s building and later of the police efforts to reopen those entrances, in blatant disregard of the domestic legislation, multiple warnings given to them, and of the needs and rights of the democratically elected members of Parliament to discharge their functions which are essential in any democratic society can be described as “reprehensible” conduct.”
As regards to Kacharava, the court noted that the available domestic material did not demonstrate that he was among the organizers of the demonstration or personally blocked either the Parliament building’s entrances or the police attempts aimed at clearing them.
Concerning the right to a fair trial, the court stressed that unlike Makarashvili and Berdzenishvili, there had been a violation of the provision in question as regards to Kacharava.
The Court accepted that the applicants’ arrest and subsequent conviction for the administrative offence of disobeying lawful orders pursued the legitimate aim of preventing disorder and protecting public safety.
November 2019 rallies
Protests emerged in November 2019 after the Georgian Parliament voted down the bill that would have changed Georgia’s mixed electoral system to fully proportional one from 2020, instead of 2024.
Court sentenced Makarashvili, Berdzenishvili and Kacharava to 12-day, 7-day and 4-day administrative detentions, respectively.