We, the undersigned organizations, would like to express our solidarity with the organizers of Tbilisi Pride and LGBT+ activists whose freedom of expression was crudely restricted by violent groups outside the Chancellery of the Government on 14 June. We call on the law enforcement bodies to carry out all the necessary measures to, on the one hand, hold the perpetrators of the violence responsible before the law and, on the other, to ensure that the Tbilisi Pride Week is held in a peaceful environment.
We would like to underscore that the Constitution of Georgia guarantees freedom of expression for every person, including freedom of assembly, regardless of sexual orientation, gender or other identities. All groups of the society are fully entitled to have their own opinion and to express it freely – verbally, in writing or in another form. At the same time, it is a positive obligation of the state to carry out corresponding measures against the persons who prevent others from exercising this right. It is precisely due to the failure to fulfill such obligations that the European Court of Human Rights ruled with regard to the 17 May 2012 incident that Georgia had violated the Convention.
The public saw clearly that the LGBT+ activists were prevented from exercising their right outside the Chancellery on 14 June. They, as well as other peaceful citizens, journalists and representatives of the Public Defender, became a target of threats and violence on the part of the groups whose leaders have links to the Russian Federation. Especially worrisome are the statements made by the representatives of the violent groups in Vera Park on 16 June, which contained open threats and calls to violence against LGBT+ activists, police officers, human rights activists and international partners. Businessman Levan Vasadze familiarised those gathered in Vera Park with a plan to thwart Tbilisi Pride and called on them to join a violent group.
On 14 June, during the rally outside the Government Chancellery, the Ministry of Internal Affairs detained on administrative charges 28 persons who were trying to break through the police cordon and expressed in various ways their aggression towards the participants of the peaceful rally, their supporters as well as journalists. In addition, the ministry has already launched the investigation into the formation and leadership of illegal militia groups and their membership in accordance with Part 1 of Article 223 of the Criminal Code. The response by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the violent actions and calls of extremist groups is welcome, but it should be noted that the strengthening of such groups over the years is the result of the government’s inappropriate policies, inaction, and often tolerant attitudes. It is especially alarming that the Ministry of Internal Affairs is suggesting that that the Tbilisi Pride organizers refrain from holding the pride and is unable to guarantee its safety.
Considering all the above, we believe that, in the situation that has taken shape, the following is necessary:
- The law enforcement bodies must investigate in a timely and efficient manner the violent actions committed and calls made at the rallies on 14 and 16 June; in this respect, the law enforcement bodies must pay special attention to the plans voiced by Levan Vasadze at the 16 June rally which point to a crime under Article 223 of the Criminal Code (formation, leadership of illegal militia groups, membership of and participation in such groups and/or carrying out other activities benefiting such illegal groups);
- All necessary preventive measures must be carried out in order to ensure the safety of LGBT+ activists during the Tbilisi Pride Week so that they are able to freely exercise their right to public assembly and expression;
- The government must be particularly careful and pay special attention to the extremist forces stepping up their activities in the country, study their possible links to the Russian special services and efficiently respond to the threats and challenges that exist in this respect.
Georgian Democracy Initiative
Transparency International Georgia
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy
Society and Banks
Media Development Foundation
Partnership for Human Rights
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information
Tolerance and Diversity Institute
Georgia’s Reforms Associates
Center for Research Journalism and Economic Analysis
Economic Policy Research Center
Institute for Democracy and Safe Development