ProtectDefenders.eu received information regarding the arbitrary prosecution of human rights defenders and activists during protests in Georgia. ProtectDefenders.eu is concerned following the recent wave of arbitrary arrests of civil society activists in Georgia, a worrying trend posing a threat to the democratic fabric of society and the ability of individuals to freely assemble and express themselves. The arbitrary practice of administrative arrests is being used to exert control over peaceful protesters and organisers, weaken citizens’ ability to self-organise, intimidate individuals, and harass human rights defenders.
In June 2022, Georgian law enforcement authorities arbitrarily arrested seven activists peacefully exercising their right to protest. A peaceful protest took place in front of the parliament building in the capital Tbilisi, organised by the Georgian civil society group GEUT (‘stubborn’). The protesters had gathered to express their discontent with the Georgian government’s foreign policy and Georgia’s growing alliance with the Russian authorities. The activists were holding paper banners, calling for the respect of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and expressing their criticism against the Georgian authorities.
In response to the action, police arbitrarily arrested at least seven protesters, including four human rights defenders: Saba Brachveli, lawyer and employee of the Open Society Foundation; Eduard Marikashvili, Chairperson of the Georgian Democracy Initiative; Nika Romanadze, civil society activist; and Shota Tutberidze, lawyer of the Tolerance and Diversity Institute. Police also detained at least three more civil society leaders, including Levan Nishnianidze, a member of the “Girchi-More Freedom” party.
Eduard Marikashvili is a Georgian human rights defender and lawyer. In his human rights litigation, he focuses on juvenile justice, criminal law and accountability. The human rights defender joined the protest to monitor the violation of the peaceful protestors’ rights, as law enforcement officers started to violently arrest and detain them while confiscating and destroying their signs. Eduard Marikashvili joined the protest and held a blank piece of paper in his hands.
Law enforcement officers approached Eduard Marikashvili and a group of other protesters, ripped the white paper from the hands of the human rights defender, destroyed it and arbitrarily arrested him and some other protesters. The law enforcement officers brought the human rights defender to the Georgian Ministry of Interior’s premises in Tbilisi, where he spent several hours. He was then transferred to a pre-trial detention facility in Telavi, with Romanadze and Brachveli, where they spent 48 hours. The HRDs were repeatedly denied access to their lawyers. Following their arrest, the defenders face charges of hooliganism and disobedience of a legal order from the police, offences envisioned under Article 166 and Article 173 of the Administrative Offences Code of Georgia.
The arrests and prosecution of activists for peacefully holding paper banners infringed upon their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. The 48-hour pretrial detention, without timely court proceedings, raises concerns about arbitrary detention and denial of the right to a fair trial. Additionally, excessive use of force by the police during the arrests and confiscation and damage to paper posters amount to police abuse, undermining the freedom from ill-treatment and individuals’ right to express their opinions freely.
Georgia ranks 77/180 on RSF’s world press freedom ranking. Official interference undermines efforts undertaken to improve press freedom. The environment is becoming increasingly hostile for independent and opposition media and the country saw an unprecedented number of physical assaults on journalists in 2021.