Georgian Supreme Court sides with opposition over law on public gathering case

Georgian opposition (RIA Novosti / STF)
Georgia’s Constitutional Court has ruled that a number of norms in the Law on Gatherings and Manifestations as well as the Administrative Code contradict the country’s constitution which guarantees the freedom of speech, assembly and manifestation.

­The decision was taken by the Constitutional Court on Monday in favor of several politicians and public figures now in opposition to President Mikhail Saakashvili. They are the People’s Defender (or ombudsman) of Georgia Georgiy Tugushi, the non-government organization Association of Young Lawyers of Georgia, the Movement for United Georgia and the Conservative Party. Several people participated in the lawsuit as private persons.   

The lawsuit deals with the bills on “Gatherings and Manifestations”, “Police” and “Administrative Code” that were approved by the Georgian parliament in 2009. The lawsuit against the bills was filed in 2010, but the court procedures lingered until this year.

The court found unconstitutional the paragraphs that forbid demonstrations to be held near offices of certain state organizations, including court buildings. The court also found that in some cases the norm de-facto forbade gatherings as such. At the same time, the court ruled that the state can limit the right for free assembly if security interests call for it.

The court also ruled that the norm forbidding some citizens to be initiators of rallies was against the constitution as was the norm that forbids people without Georgian citizenship to organize any political actions and even claim responsibility for them.

The court, however, recognized as complying with the constitution the norm that forbids blocking roads and obliges participants of the action to stop if at any point the law is violated. The court also supported the norm that forbids calling for the violent overthrow of the current political regime and the norm that forbids the officers of the Investigation Service of the Finance Ministry to hold any rallies or manifestations.  

The move was welcomed by Georgia’s ombudsman, Georgiy Kudushi, who has called the decision of the Constitutional Court “a significant step forward.”