On 31 January 2020, GDI presented its report on Freedom of Expression in Georgia. The report was prepared with the financial support of the Open Society Georgia Foundation, within the project – Litigation for Freedom of Expression.
The report aims at analysing the recent situation regarding freedom of expression in Georgia. It also covers the cases litigated by GDI before the national and regional courts as well as the Constitutional Court of Georgia. The GDI team has identified practical examples and trends in terms of restriction of the right to freedom of expression by the national authorities in different aspects.
GDI analysed the forceful disruption of the demonstration and arrests made on 20 June 2019, the disruption of the demonstration and arrests made on 18 and 26 November 2019, removing the tents on the area adjacent to the Parliament and administrative arrests made on 30-31 December 2019. This analysis shows that the authorities restricted the right to assembly and freedom of demonstration in violation of the regulatory framework. In most cases, law-enforcement authorities’ response to demonstrators’ actions is based on the principle of selective justice. The law-enforcement authorities follow a particularly severe approach towards the demonstrations critical of the government. This approach makes it evident that the actions of the law-enforcement authorities are aimed at restricting freedom of expression rather than responding to violations. Another issue of concern is the use of disproportionate force against demonstrators by law-enforcement agencies. It is further confirmed by the case-law of the national courts, which tend to impose particularly strict sanctions on the persons arrested when exercising their right to assembly and demonstration. Such an approach may have a chilling effect in terms of expressing critical views.
The analysis of the events unfolded around holding “Tbilisi Pride” and the screening of the film “And Then We Danced” shows that the government does not fulfil properly its positive obligation; it does not take adequate measures to prevent third parties’ unjustified interference with the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly and demonstration. The failure to respond adequately to illegal actions of the violent ultra-nationalist groups ultimately results in an unjustified burden on the exercise of freedom of expression of minorities, thus hindering the establishment of a tolerant and pluralistic society.
The state’s policy towards independent and critical media is deplorable. The analysis of criminal prosecution instituted against Nika Gvaramia and Avtandil Tsereteli; questioning of Zurab Gumbaridze; events unfolded around the Public Broadcaster of Ajara and the selective tax policy against Caucasus TV and TV-1 shows that that the state attacks directly free and independent media on a selective basis and, in some instances, prosecutes the senior managers of broadcasters. The systemic and contextual analysis of the events clearly indicates that such actions are aimed at suppressing the views critical of the authorities, introducing the marketplace of ideas artificially and reinforcing political influence at the expense of deterioration of human rights situation in the country. Furthermore, decisions of the Georgian National Communications Commission demonstrate that its functioning goes hand in hand and is orchestrated by the actions of the government and this agency works as a media censor restricting the freedom of media even when it is beyond its mandate and constitutional standards.
The cases of Fady Asly and Zviad Kuprava illustrate that there is a significant challenge in terms of striking a fair balance between freedom of expression and the legitimate aim of maintaining the authority of the judiciary. The domestic courts often brand value judgments as defamation and expression of a position regarding the judiciary in the context of public discourse as an attack against the authority of the judiciary; criminal proceedings are used in such cases.
Another alarming trend is the endeavour of the authorities to introduce regulations restricting freedom of expression under the pretext of preventing offending religious feelings. The right to freedom of expression should be regulated with due respect for the principle of neutrality. However, both administrative bodies and courts tend to negate the principle of ethical neutrality and restrict the right to freedom of expression under the pretext of protecting the value system and opinions dominant in the society. The authorities’ endeavour to restrict the right to freedom of expression and confine it to narrower legal framework for ostensibly noble reasons should, in fact, be considered as attempts to reinforce the means of restricting critical opinions against the majority.
In reality, we face serious challenges in terms of restrictions of the right to freedom of expression in all aspects. It is a trend in which all the branches of government join efforts to the maximum delimitation of the freedom of expression and harnessing opinions critical of the government through tightening the regulatory framework, administrative practice and court judgments, which adversely affects the quality of democracy in the country.