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HRC Press-release on the monitoring of the Girchi’s Protest Action

24.04.2020

 
On April 23, at 14:00 pm, in the territory of the former hippodrome in Tbilisi, the leader of the political center Girchi - Zurab Girchi Japaridze organized a protest action; a day before, he created a Facebook event in the social network – “Cancel the State of Emergency! Come out!”

With the decision of the Government of Georgia, ban on the movement of public transport, taxis and personal cars extended until April 27, 2020. Pursuant to these regulations, HRC monitors were not able to monitor the action on the place. Therefore, the monitoring was performed via the Facebook live of the Radio Liberty and personal facebook page of Zurab Girchi Japaridze. 

Zurab Girchi Japaridze scheduled the action in hippodrome on April 22 to protest the state of emergency in the country and its extension until May 22. He called on everybody to join the action, who was against the decision of the Government of Georgia. The Facebook event listed eleven requirements: 1. To revoke the state of emergency and curfew; 2. To remove bans on the transportation by cars; 3. To cancel restrictions on the number of passengers in a car; 4. To revoke restrictions on the assembly and manifestation; 5. To revoke restriction on gathering more than 3 persons in a public space; 6. To revoke restrictions on trading centers, including agricultural markets; 7. To revoke restrictions for business companies; 8. To revoke restrictions for currency exchange offices; 9. To revoke restrictions for the elderly people to leave home; 10. To remove all blockposts and to open all municipalities across the country; 11. To revoke all administrative penalties which were issued in relation with the COVID-19 related restrictions.  

As the video recordings of the protest action showed, on April 23, more than 20 people gathered in the hippodrome. Some of them were just standing, others were walking. The protesters allegedly were walking pursuant to the suggestion of Zurab Japaridze, who said that they could tell police officers that they were just strolling in the open air and it could protect them from administrative penalties. 

In some places, more than 3 persons were standing that is prohibited based on the government’s order and is punishable with 3 000 GEL fine like any other gathering. 

The protest participants acted peacefully and were not aggressive; they did not have any protest banners or other symbols to show the purpose of their gathering. In parallel to that, some representatives of Girchi, including the organizer, gave interviews to journalists and voiced the purpose of their gathering. 

Those, who openly expressed their protest with journalists, had one common request. They all claimed that the state of emergency was not effective mean to fight against the infection. Instead, it harmed the economy, left the self-employed people without income and relatively hungry. Zurab Japaridze told journalists that the government tries to instill panic in the society and pretends that they successfully cope with the epidemics. Japaridze said it is a “political show” and is afraid that it may undermine the possibility to hold the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2020. Japaridze added that it is vague for him what will change after May 21 that will enable the government to cancel the state of emergency and what plan the government has – the only thing is clear that more people will be infected but there will be no vaccine for what, the state of emergency, is more likely to be extended. 

About 15 minutes later, more than 10 police officers arrived on the site. The number of the police officers was disproportionate in comparison to the number of protesters. They supposedly issued the penalty notice to Zurab Japaradze on the place for organizing the action (the video shows moments of his identification and printing the notice), later on he was taken to Vake-Saburtalo district police unit together with few more protesters. 

When journalists asked why they were taking the citizens to police unit, the patrol police officers answered that it is impossible to identify all of them in the chaotic situation and “they would clarify everything” in the office. The video shows that police officers did not even try to differentiate the citizens – who participated in the protest and who was just a passer-by. The chaos on the place was caused by the arrest of people. The police did not attempt to issue penalty notices on the place, particularly to those, who presented their ID cards and could be identified easily. The action may be evaluated as a violation of the Law on Police

The patrol police also decided to take one of the leaders of the Girchi – Vakhtang Megrelishvili to the department though he presented his ID card to the police and said that he held transportation permit because of journalistic activities. Megrelishvili said he did not have the journalist’s ID with him but the Girchi TV had handed the police the list of their journalists who held permits on transportation. Nevertheless, patrol police preferred to find out the situation in the police office. 

In parallel to that, police did not treat the second correspondent of the Girchi TV in the same way, who allegedly left the site on his own like other citizens gathered on the place. 

This approach casts doubts that police officers randomly arrested citizens. They said all detainees will be taken to the police unit and fined but it did not happen because about 10-15 people managed to leave the site peacefully after police left the area. There were about 4-5 police cars on the site. 

Police arrested one person for hooliganism and resistance to law enforcement officers. The detainee started shouting only after the police officers were leading him towards the car. Consequently, alleged unlawful action of the detainee is not seen in the video. It is noteworthy that the journalist of the Radio Liberty was in the middle of all developments and it is difficult to assume that she missed unlawful actions of the protesters and noise. 

The police also forcibly arrested a young woman, but what was the ground of her arrest is not seen in the video of Radio Liberty. It is evident from the recording that the law enforcement officers did not clarify the motive of her detention and other rights under the law in the moment of arrest. Alleged law-offender woman requested the officers to clarify the basis of her arrest and her rights. Regardless that, the police officers did not satisfy her lawful request and did not clarify her rights that contradicts the requirements of the Administrative Offences Code of Georgia. Above that, seizure of the subject (mobile phone in this particular case) is also violation of the Administrative Offences Code of Georgia, because the seized subject can be only a weapon of the offender. In this particular case, the police acted unlawfully because the mobile phone was not weapon of the offence. During the detention of the woman, police officers used physical force to put her in the police car. Finally, she was taken to police unit lying on the seat in the car together with at least 3 male police officers. 

From the action, Zurab Japaridze had livestreaming on from his own facebook page. In that moment, the abovementioned detained woman was already in the police car. Japaridze several times asked the police officers why they had arrested the woman. In the video, the woman’s voice is heard, who is shouting from the police car: “why have you arrested me?!” Initially, police officers were silent but after the question was asked several times, they answered Japaridze that she was arrested for the resistance to police officers; namely she had cursed the police officers. The officers did not answer Japaridze where they were going to take her. After the conversation with other patrol police officers, Japaridze was clarified that the woman was “cursing and scolding” in the street and “was resisting” law enforcement officers. Additionally, Zurab Japaridze said in his live-video that the officers had fined a person who was not a protester and was just walking in the hippodrome. He also found out that the police had arrested one more individual for the resistance to law enforcement officers. 

It is noteworthy that there were only male police officers on the site while both women and men participated in the protest action.

The action lasted about 40 minutes. 

Human Rights Center

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