On October 5, the Parliament endorsed the amendment to the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations that the ruling party rushed through in an accelerated procedure. 74 MPs voted for and 22 against the adaptation of the law.
The law empowers police to prohibit the erection of “temporary structures” like tents during assemblies or demonstrations if such setups are deemed to pose a threat to participants’ safety, disrupt public order, interfere with the normal functioning of institutions, or are unnecessary for the event’s organization. Failure to comply can lead to fines of 500 GEL and, for severe violations, imprisonment for up to 15 days.
In its third reading, the Parliament passed (with a vote of 75 to 20) a related project that modifies the “Code of Administrative Offenses.” Among the changes, a new penalty – confiscation of the item related to the offense – has been incorporated alongside existing sanctions for violations of specific provisions in the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations.
The bills were introduced by members of the ruling party, MPs Anri Okhanashvili, Irakli Beraia, Givi Mikanadze, Rati Ionatamishvili, Irakli Shatakishvili, Tengiz Sharmanashvili, and Aleksandre Tabatadze.
Reactions to the law
The recently enacted legislation is commonly dubbed by opposition and activists the “New Russian Law.” Some activists staged a protest in front of the parliament building on the evening of October 5. Demonstrators erected tents and remained overnight, demanding that Georgia’s President, Salome Zurabishvili, veto the legislation.
Two people were arrested during the rally. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, they were detained for administrative offenses under Article 166. In addition, law enforcement officials barred Lazare Grigoriadis’ father, Beka Grigoriadis, and his brother, Kakha Grigoriadis, from the area. According to those gathered near the parliament, there was a verbal altercation between the police and the rally participants, after which Beka and Kakha Grigoriadis were taken away by police patrol cars. It remains unknown whether they have been detained or just removed from the scene.
The Chairman of the Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, stated today that even if the President vetoes the law, the Parliament will override it “Because we [the Parliament] believe[s] that this is a rightful law, and it responds to the security challenges that Georgia faces.”
The Ambassador of the European Union in Georgia, Paweł Herczyński, addressed the matter while speaking with the Journalists on October 6, saying: “What I can say is that, as the European Union, we condemn violence no matter who it is directed against, we condemn any kind of violence, but on the other hand, we very clearly support freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”
The Public Defender of Georgia, Levan Ioseliani released a statement on October 4 and emphasized that the amendments “represent an intense interference with freedom of expression/assembly, which restricts the expression of opinion by using temporary constructions (for example, a tent). Such intense restriction of freedom of expression in a democratic society can be justified only by the need to protect an important, weighty interest, which cannot be seen in the draft law presented.”