The Police say thirteen activists were detained in downtown Tbilisi at the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture as they tried to set up tents. Most protesters came down from the mountainous West Georgian province of Racha, where the rallies have been ongoing since September 27. Locals demand the cancellation of the 49-year forestry license given to David Khidasheli, a Russia-based businessman. The protesters say the license was awarded without the required public consultation and have been demanding a response from the Ministry of Environment since November 3. They moved to protest in front of the Ministry today.
Media reports say Varlam Goletiani, a controversial leader of the “Rioni Valley Defenders” and the key figure in protest against the construction of Namakhvani HPP, is among the detained.
Excessive restriction of the right to Assembly – Watchdog
The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) issued a statement saying the arrests attest to the state excessively restricting the freedom of assembly based on the Code of Administrative Offences, which has not been substantively revised since the Soviet period. The watchdog said the relevant law and legal practice allow for setting up tents during protests. The legitimate aim of the police preventing the protesters from setting up tents becomes even more unclear, reads the statement since the action was taking place after working hours and on the weekend. Therefore, concludes the watchdog, the only objective of the police intervention was to prevent the protest from gaining momentum, which is not legitimate under the law.
GYLA also protested the detention of a journalist from the online outlet “Mautskebeli” (“The Broadcaster”), identified as Rati Ratiani. The watchdog says detentions of journalists at the rallies became commonplace in 2023 and has a chilling effect on media freedom.
On November 20, the lawyer in the case confirmed to civil.ge that all the detainees have been released. The court hearing is postponed.