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Georgian Parliament Ignores Criticism Of Planned Restrictions On Meetings, Rallies

An anti-Saakashvili rally in central Tbilisi -- will this now be illegal?
The Georgian parliament approved on July 16 in the second reading proposed amendments to the laws on meetings and demonstrations, on the police, and on administrative offenses. Those amendments, which were drafted in response to the opposition's protest tactics over the past three months, were passed in the first reading on July 11.

Specifically, the amendments to the law on rallies and demonstrations prohibits the "deliberate" and "artificial" blocking of streets either by protesters or by "various types of edifices or objects," a reference to the mock prison cells that oppositionists placed along Tbilisi's main boulevard and at other locations in the city.

The changes to the law on the police empower police to fire rubber bullets at protesters, while under the amended law on administrative offenses, the maximum period of detention for blocking the entrance to administrative buildings, or for ignoring orders from the police, is increased from 30 to 90 days.

On July 14, nine Georgian NGOs, including the respected Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, adopted a formal statement calling on the parliament not to adopt the amendments in their current form.

They termed the limitations on the freedom of assembly "disproportionate;" argued that there is no justification for increasing the length of permissible detention for administrative offenses (such terms of detention may not be appealed to a higher court); and warned that permitting the use of "nonlethal weapons," meaning rubber bullets, can cause serious injury.

The NGOs further called on international organizations "to actively engage in the legal assessment" of the planned amendments. Opposition deputies called during the debate on July 11 for the amendments to be submitted for assessment to the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional and legal issues, but the majority decided to request such an assessment only after the amendments are passed.

Opposition lawmakers walked out of the parliament chamber in protest on July 16 before the vote was taken. Parliament majority leader Petre Tsiskarishvili downplayed that move as a "storm in a tea cup." He argued that the international community would already have voiced its concern if the amendments were in the slightest "undemocratic."

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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