Public Defender of Georgia Echoes March 7-9 Developments on Rustaveli Avenue
The Public Defender of Georgia Levan Ioseliani and his authorized persons were continuously monitoring the rallies held on March 7-9 against the draft laws initiated by People's Power in the Parliament of Georgia. The Public Defender and employees of the Public Defender’s Office made visits to various divisions, departments and temporary detention centers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia to meet the persons detained during the rallies.
The Public Defender of Georgia emphasizes that freedom of peaceful assembly is enshrined in the Constitution of Georgia. According to the definition of the UN Human Rights Committee, "violence" implies the use of physical force by participants against others that is likely to result in injury or death, or serious damage to property. Accordingly, according to the Committee, mere pushing and shoving do not amount to “violence”. At the same time, it is important that verbal or physical acts of aggression or violence by an individual or a small number of people does not remove the right of those who continue to act in a peaceful manner. In similar cases, any intervention should aim to deal with the particular individuals involved rather than dispersing the entire event.
Based on the mentioned international standards, continuous monitoring and the information and video recordings released by the media, the Public Defender of Georgia is presenting his evaluations to the public:
On the evening of March 7, the situation became tense after some of the participants in the assembly tried to approach one of the entrances to the Parliament building, the road to which was blocked by the law enforcement officers. This was followed by a statement from the Ministry of Internal Affairs that the assembly became violent, that there was an attempt to block one of the Parliament entrances and that there were incidents of violence against the employees of the Ministry. Soon, a small part of citizens moved towards the second entrance. Clashes occurred at both locations.
According to the Public Defender's assessment, at the time of the warning made by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in the evening hours of March 7, 2023, the assembly had a peaceful character and there was no reason to terminate it or use force against it. As for the cases of violence by individual participants in the rally, if there were any, individual - necessary and proportionate measures should have been taken against them. Contrary to this, the law enforcement officers started using special equipment against the participants in the assembly, including peaceful demonstrators, which contradicts the standard of necessary and proportionate interference with the right.
The violent actions started by individual participants in the assembly at the Parliament’s back entrance became the basis for the unjustified termination of the assembly with the use of force by the law enforcement officers on March 8. After some of the participants started breaking the windows and damaging the Parliament building at the back entrance, the police took appropriate actions, although the said use of force continued in a completely illegitimate manner against the peaceful participants in the assembly standing in front of the Parliament of Georgia.
It should also be noted that, in both cases, and especially after the first use of force in the night hours of March 8, the situation became tense several times and special equipment were repeatedly used against the participants in the assembly, including when there was no such necessity. According to the Public Defender's assessment, unjustified cases of the use of force in a similar situation always contribute to the artificial escalation of the situation, which law enforcement officers are obliged to prevent.
The media footage shows cases when special equipment was used against the participants in the rally without any reason, including by targeting their faces, when they just approached police officers peacefully. This clearly represents a criminal act. Several video materials released by the media clearly show gross physical violence against citizens.
As a result of the measures used by the law enforcement officers in order to manage the rallies, media representatives were also injured. Information was spread about interference with their activities, whereas, legislation puts them under special protection during assemblies.
At the same time, before and during the termination of the assembly, the law enforcement officers actively resorted to the practice of mass detention of demonstrators in an administrative manner. The relevant footage makes it clear that in some cases, the above was not a measure against the existing offence, therefore, it failed to meet the requirement of necessity and had the form of an unjustified interference with the right.
On March 7-9, the Public Defender and his authorized persons visited various divisions, departments and temporary detention centers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and met 96 detainees. The authorized persons worked intensively not only in Tbilisi, but also in the regions in order to visit the detainees. At the same time, several detained persons appealed to the Office with a request to study the legality of their detention.
The detainees indicated harsh forms of detention and in some cases, injuries. In relating to several detainees, with their own wish and consent, the Public Defender’s Office immediately applied to the Special Investigation Service with a request to start an investigation.
The case of Zurab Japaridze is particularly noteworthy. According to him and one of the witnesses, several representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs physically assaulted him. He was beaten with hands, feet and batons, as a result of which he sustained multiple injuries in the head and neck area, as well as in the wrist area.
In addition, according to the reports, in a number of cases, family members and lawyers of the detained persons, could not get information about the whereabouts of the detainees, as the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not provide the relevant information. Several Persons applied to the Public Defender’s Office for help. The above violates the detainees' right of defence, as they were not given the opportunity to meet with lawyers on time or develop a defence strategy.
The Public Defender’s Office will continue to study the cases of persons detained at the rallies. In addition, he will monitor the investigation launched by the Special Investigation Service into the ill-treatment of persons. The Public Defender calls on the investigative agencies to conduct an effective investigation into the use of disproportionate force, as well as the damages suffered by representatives of the media.