Sentencing Zviad Kuprava to Imprisonment Is a Dangerous Precedent of Restricting Freedom of Expression
We, the undersigned organisations, respond to the conviction of Zviad Kuprava by Tbilisi City Court yesterday and believe that the conviction is a dangerous precedent in terms of restricting freedom of expression in Georgia.
The case concerns the incident of 11 June 2018, when Zviad Kuprava was in the court’s cafeteria on a one-hour break announced during the proceedings. During that time, police officers approached Zviad Kuprava, demanded him to leave the cafeteria and to return to the courtroom. In response, Zviad Kuprava said that he was dismissed from the courtroom for one hour and the one hour had not expired yet. Besides, he said that he did not care about the judge (namely, “He could not be arsed about the judge”). As a result, the representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs forced the citizen to go back to the courtroom. Afterwards, the prosecutor’s office charged Kuprava and launched criminal prosecution against him. Zviad Kuprava was convicted for this very action (insulting the judge), under Article 366.2 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which lays down criminal responsibility for contempt of court that was manifested in insulting the judge. Under the court’s judgment, Zviad Kuprava is sentencedto deprivation of liberty for nine months. It is noteworthy that this is the first occasion in the judicial practice that criminal responsibility has been imposed on a person based on the above-mentioned provision for the statement made outside a courtroom.
We believe that ensuring effective administration of justice and preventing obstructing a court hearing constitute undoubtedly a worthy interest that needs protection and which could warrant a certain measure of responsibility.,However, we consider it alarming that the provision at stake is applied where a person makes a statement outside the courtroom and thus does not obstruct either effective administration of justice, the court’s independence or impartiality. In such case, imposing responsibility on a person only for the fact that the statement was offensive violates the standard of freedom of expression safeguarded by the Constitution, which protects offensive statements on the one hand and, on the other hand, obliges judges to tolerate statements (including offensive statements) made regarding them.
It is significant to analyse today’s judgment against the background of other events currently taking place in the country, namely, the increasing desire of the authorities or other groups of the society to limit the scope of freedom of expression to suppress criticism in the public. The current interviews with the candidates of Supreme Court judgeship and views expressed by incumbent judges in this context are also noteworthy as they, together with today’s judgment, generally indicate low sensitivity towards freedom of expression in the court system. It should also be pointed out that Zviad Kuprava is a person who holds oppositional sentiments and took active participation along with Zaza Saralidze in the demonstrations held concerning the tragedy that had taken place on Khorava Street. This suggests selective administration of justice in his case.
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS)
Human Rights Centre (HRC)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia)
Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI)
Institute for Democracy and Safe Development (IDSD)
Partnership for Human Rights (PHR)
Media Development Foundation (MDF)
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA)
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)