Non-governmental organization “Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association” (GYLA) responded to an investigation launched into artist Sandro Sulaberidze on 13 February, stating that his actions did not constitute a criminal offence. On 4 February, Sulaberidze removed his artwork from an exhibition at the National Gallery and replaced it with words written in paint on a wall: “Art is alive and independent”. The Ministry of Internal Affairs opened a case against him for theft.
GYLA believes that the information that has become public about the incident does not match the qualifications of the article on the charge of theft, because “theft implies the secret taking of another person’s movable property for its unlawful appropriation, which is not the case in the given incident”. “Accordingly, it is also wrong to open an investigation with the classification [of theft]”.
“Launching an investigation against him [Sulaberidze] from this point of view significantly damages the guarantees strengthened by freedom of expression in the country” – noted GYLA, adding that “such a form of investigation is a mechanism of pressure on artists, the purpose of which is to serve as a kind of instruction/warning to other people to refrain from expressing their positions on certain issues”.
Referring to the practice of the European Court of Human Rights, the organization stressed that “sanctions against freedom of expression should not, in essence, amount to censorship and should not have a chilling effect on the possibilities of expressing critical opinions”. GYLA also raised the issue of the incident between activist Nata Peradze and law enforcement officers during the protests held in solidarity with Sulaberidze in front of the National Gallery on 12 February, in which Peradze’s nose was damaged, and reminded the authorities that freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the Georgian Constitution and international law.
“The state has no right to interfere with the freedom of assembly during a peaceful demonstration. Any act of violence is illegal and violates the basic principles of human rights,” the organization said, adding that the information about Peradze’s incident “leads us to believe that there was a place for unlawful interference in the freedom of assembly”.
GYLA also drew attention to the reorganization that has taken place in the ministry’s departments following the appointment of Tea Tsulukiani as Minister of Culture, which has resulted in the dismissal of ““many employees“. “GYLA is actively working on the current labor disputes in the cultural sector, which are the result of the policies implemented by the new minister”.
GYLA therefore called on the state authorities “to stop exerting pressure and harsh interference in the work of representatives of the art world, to refrain from unjustified interference in the freedom of assembly, to carefully consider such facts and to react promptly. “
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