Initial Assessment of May 17 Rally by the Observer Organisations
On May 17, the state failed to secure the area designated for the pre-arranged rally on International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. This is an infringement of the rally participants’ freedom of assembly and demonstration.
The measures which had been put in place by the police to ensure the safety of the rally participants were both inadequate and ineffective. They failed to withstand the number and unrestrained behaviour of the counter-demonstrators.
According to information and material provided by our observers, counter-demonstrators faced no resistance when they came to break down the cordon. Having given a group of Orthodox clergy priests (who represented the counter-demonstrators) an opportunity to enter the scheduled anti-homophobia rally, the police were then unable to stem the flow of activists who followed them.
The mass of counter-demonstrators started aggressively moving towards the rally participants and proceeded to occupy the space allocated for the rally. Only a few rally participants managed to escape the scene safely.
At this stage we can make the initial assessment and state the following:
- The Ministry of Interior failed to adequately assess the potential risks posed by the counter-demonstrators, and failed to prepare a suitable safety strategy. It was clear from the start that the number of police mobilized would be inadequate, and that the measures prepared against the offenders would have no effect;
- The police were uncoordinated and unable to protect the citizens\' freedom of expression. Furthermore, it seemed that the Ministry of Interior’s focus was on the safe removal of the rally participants from the area rather than protecting the rally itself. The police did not make enough effort to ensure the safety of the rally participants throughout the demonstration;
- As soon as the rally territory was occupied by the counter-demonstrators, the police simply stood back. This gave the counter-demonstrators freedom to behave aggressively and increased their opportunities to harass individual rally participants; an occurrence which unfortunately happened far too often;
- Most alarming is the attitude of police officers towards the participants of the planned rally on the Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. All our observers affirmed that the police officers frequently referred to the rally participants in a cynical and insulting manner and were seen sympathizing with the counter-demonstrators. This attitude was also evident in their general behavior.
At this point thousands of counter-demonstrators were still swarming the streets, marking themselves out by their patent aggression towards those they identified with the initial rally. The police force once again failed here, and limited their actions to simply diffusing various incidents of aggression.
Based on all of the above, we call on the Ministry of Interior to:
- Immediately undertake effective measures for securing public order and the safety of citizens;
- Hold all those officials responsible who failed to adequately assess the existing risks, and bring to justice those who did not ensure the safety of the rally participants and their right to assembly and demonstrate;
- Investigate and bring to account all those who prevented the citizens from holding the planned rally on the Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, who resorted to violence against those with different views and insulted them both verbally and physically.
Observer organizations shall monitor these developments and will provide the public with more information and assessments at a later date.
Transparency International Georgia
Georgian Democratic Initiative (GDI)
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Georgian Young Lawyers\' Association
Article 42 of the Constitution of Georgia
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)