On September 27, Human Rights Center (HRC) released its “Monitoring Report regarding the Amount of Police Force and Unidentifiable Law Enforcement Officers Mobilized at Protest Demonstrations”. The organization monitored 10 protest demonstrations in the period from January to August 2023, and according to its findings, “a tendency to deploy a disproportionate number of law enforcement officers compared to the protest participants on the demonstration sites was observed”.
The Human Rights Center notes instances during protests, where police significantly outnumbered demonstrators and cases where police numbers were insufficient to maintain public order and protect protesters from potentially violent counter-demonstrators. Additionally, there were instances of unidentified police officers attending protests alongside their uniformed colleagues.
The report focuses on concrete protests, such as a series of protests organized by Beka Grigoriadis, the father of imprisoned Lazare Grigoriadis, and the protest of Gia Gachechiladze (Utsnobi) and Zaza Papuashvili under the banner “I Am Coming – Georgia First.” During the former protests from May 28 to June 4, the number of police officers at times exceeded the number of protesters by three to one. In contrast, during the latter protest, which drew approximately 11,000 participants, only up to 100 police officers were present. HRC Monitors also observed the unidentified police officers present at these demonstrations.
Furthermore, the Human Rights Center found an inadequate police presence during the July 8, 2023 Pride Festival. The HRC contends that the state failed in its duty to protect Pride Festival participants from the aggressive actions of counter-demonstrators, ultimately resulting in the event’s cancellation. The HRC points to European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence, which holds police officers responsible for protection of individuals during public events organized by vulnerable groups, particularly given the historical hostility towards the LGBT community in Georgia.
In addition, the Human Rights Center emphasizes that the Constitution of Georgia safeguards the freedom of assembly and manifestation, with the state carrying the responsibility for its effective protection. According to the Law of Georgia on Police, the police must ensure the safety of participants in gatherings, demonstrations, and mass events as part of their preventive role. To achieve both protester safety and the freedom of assembly, the state must respond proportionately to each situation, deploying an appropriate number of police officers. It is noted, that excessive police presence may provoke conflict rather than prevent violence, potentially escalating tensions.
Furthermore, the reports underlines that it is crucial that police officers participating in the organization of peaceful demonstrations are easily identifiable during the assembly, as “it will promote responsibility and increased accountability of police officers attending the assemblies because they will have a feeling that are under monitoring and if they do not meet the requirements of the law, they may be held responsible for the violation”.
Based on the finding, HRC recommends to the Ministry of Internal Affairs:
- Effectively ensure the protection of the freedom of expression and assembly of every individual;
- Adhere to the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality to ensure peaceful peaceful assembly and manifestation;
- Ensure that uniformed and identifiable police officers are involved in facilitating and manifestation;
- Ensure the mobilization of a proportional number of police officers during assemblies and manifestations;
- Ensure the protection of participants in peaceful assemblies from aggressive counter-demonstrators.
- 30/05/2023 – GDI Condemns Police Prevention of the Peaceful Protest of Beka Grigoriadis
- 09/07/2023 – Tbilisi Open Air Condemns Attack on the Pride Fest and Subsequent Vandalism, Says Authorities Encouraged Rioters
- 08/07/2023 – Organizers: Attack on Pride Fest was “Jointly Orchestrated” by Violent Groups, Police