Salome Zurabichvili (file photo) (RFE/RL)
Prague, 15 November 2005 -- Some 300 people assembled on Tbilisi's main boulevard on 13 November to protest Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili's recent affirmation that police should not hesitate to open fire on armed criminals, Caucasus Press reported.
The participants, displaying white ribbons and national flags, came out in response to an appeal to do so by Salome Zurabichvili, who was fired last month as Georgia's foreign minister. But their numbers were far fewer than the estimated 5,000-6,000 people who turned out to demonstrate their support for Zurabichvili in the wake of her dismissal.
Zurabichvili on 12 November described Merabishvili's words as contravening both international law and the international conventions to which Georgia has acceded, and as proof that human rights are violated in Georgia. Merabishvili was apparently echoing a similar statement by President Mikheil Saakashvili, whom the daily "Akhali taoba" quoted on 10 November as having encouraged police several days earlier to shoot to kill when threatened by armed criminals.
Zurabichvili also criticized on 12 November the planned amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal-Procedure Code that the Georgian parliament approved on first reading on 9 November, the first by a vote of 100-24, the second by 96-28.
Opposition parliament deputies, including Ivliane Khaindrava (Republican Party) have also protested those planned changes, which include a ban on photography of prisons and detention centers; on filming court proceedings except with the explicit permission of the presiding judge; on house arrest; and on opening a criminal case on the basis of anonymous testimony. The parliament's juridical committee, which drafted the amendments, claims that they will simplify court procedure. However, Khaindrava branded them a return to the Soviet era when the courts were controlled by the KGB, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported.
Elene Tevdoradze, who for years has chaired the parliament's Human Rights Committee, queried the rationale for abolishing house arrest, which is to be replaced by bail. She pointed out that many Georgians live below the poverty level and are consequently not in a position to post bail. Kakha Kukava (Conservative) argued that Georgia's prisons are already filled with people remanded for petty theft and similar offenses.
Opposition deputies and independent jurists protested as infringing on media freedom the proposed restriction on media coverage of criminal proceedings, but the authors of the draft amendments rejected that criticism as unfounded.
The parliament bureau met on 14 November to discuss the implications of Zurabichvili's protest action, and Tevdoradze met later the same day with parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze to discuss the proposed amendments. No details of those discussions have been made public.