Activists Win Panorama Protest Case in ECtHR

On 15 December, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in favor of the activists who protested against the building of four new city areas on Sololaki Hill, referred to as Panorama Tbilisi, initiated by the Georgian Co-Investment Fund (GFC) and owned by Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Cartu Foundation.

In this case – Peradze and Others v. Georgia – the applicants argued, and the Court agreed, that their arrest during the public demonstration, along with the fines they received, was in violation of Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, referring to the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, respectively.

In line with its ruling, the Court has ordered Georgia to pay each of the applicants GEL 100 (EUR 40) – which is the amount that they had been fined – and an additional EUR 1,000 each due to suffering “nonpecuniary damage which cannot be compensated for solely by the finding of a violation.”

Leadup to the Protest

In 2014 the GFC announced its plans to build four new city areas on Sololaki Hill. The plans received criticism from several actors, with the argument that “construction work could cause irreparable damage to the uniqueness of the Old Town’s landscape.” Opponents also contended that authorities had failed to involve society in the decision-making process.

The case in the ECtHR emerged from a protest which took place against Panorama Tbilisi outside City Hall in 2015 against the backdrop of the European Youth Summer Olympic Festival. Notably, at that protest, the organizer and one of the applicants was instructed from the start by the police officer in charge to remain within the boundaries of peaceful and regular conduct, advising her of the possible legal consequences for committing “irregular actions.”

It was the second applicant, however, who drew the ire of the police when he started to move around City Hall and the Olympic Flame with his banner – which depicted an explicit inscription likening Panorama Tbilisi to a human penis – in an effort to gain the attention of passersby. After the applicant was arrested for his actions, the other applicants in the case responded by writing the same slogan on their placards and were consequently also arrested under Article 166 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) – disorderly conduct. One of the applicants was also charged with Article 173 of the same Code, referring to disobeying police orders.

Court Proceedings in Georgia

During the hearings presided over by the Tbilisi City Court examining the charges against the applicants, police officers testified that they decided to step in only when the applicant began moving around with his banner and showing the explicit content to nearby children. The police officers also claimed that the applicants who followed suit had been chanting the slogan out loud as well as having it written on their banners. However, videos from the protest show that the applicants were standing calmly and holding signs with the explicit expression.

The Tbilisi City Court found all seven of the applicants guilty of disorderly conduct but acquitted the seventh applicant of the offense of disobeying the lawful orders of the police. The applicants were fined GEL 100 (EUR 40) each as a result.

In its ruling, the Court contended that while the activists had acted in the exercise of their rights under Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention, “those rights could be subject to a proportionate interference that ought to have a legal basis in domestic law, pursue one or more legitimate aims and be necessary in a democratic society.”

In that sense, the Court emphasized that the activists had violated Article 166 of the CAO because the provision “explicitly made swearing in public illegal.” The Court also referred to the “need to protect public order and morals as the legitimate aims of the interference in question.” Finally, the Court also asserted that the applicants had “depicted the slang term at ‘sheer indecency, void of any political, cultural, education or scientific value” and since “indecency could not contribute to public debate in a civilized manner” the right to freedom of expression could be restricted.

The City Court also specified that the term used by the protesters was “considered ‘a particularly offensive insult’ in Georgian society”, and also argued that the way the word was used did not express a political opinion and did not contribute to the political debate.

While the applicants appealed against the ruling by the City Court, the appeal was dismissed by the Tbilisi Court of Appeal, leading them to turn to the ECtHR.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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