Access of citizens to the building of the Parliament of Georgia is unreasonably restricted
Following the June 20 developments, the citizens’ right to gain entry into the Parliament building, including that of the Members of Parliament, journalists and representatives of non-parliamentary opposition, was restricted more than once.
In many developed countries, physical security control is sufficient to gain access to the Parliament. In 2015, Transparency International Georgia addressed the state legislature with a recommendation on the simplification of rules of entry into the building of the Parliament, as well as making these rules more visible to the public. Nonetheless, this initiative was only partially taken into account – the Parliament only made the existing rules more visible on its official web-page.
Accessibility to rules has no value if citizens are restricted from entering the building of the Parliament without a legal basis.
During the opening of the fall session of the Parliament on September 3, 2019, Members of the Parliament from the opposition encountered issues in gaining access to the state legislature. The same day, representatives of the law enforcement agencies also prohibited the participants of the “It’s a Shame” rally to stand near the closed gate of the Parliament.
Over the next following days, representatives of the non-parliamentary opposition, who had temporary entry permits, were also denied entry into the state legislature. According to the politicians, they wanted to attend the parliamentary committee session where the candidacy for the premiership of Giorgi Gakharia would be heard.
Restrictions on entry and movement within the Parliament were also imposed during the protests in June. MPs’ assistants and journalists were not given permission to enter the building of the Parliament.
There were various statements made that tried to explain the ongoing restrictions into the state legislature. According to the Press-Service, the restrictions were based on the temporary decision of the security services and that no relevant order was issued in this regard. Experts have noted that the Minister of Internal Affairs said, in a closed meeting with experts on July 10 on the reasons and conditions that led to the dispersal of the rally, that political parties issued ten times the parliamentary entry permits than usual prior to dispersal on June 20. According to the same experts, the Minister connected the number of issued permits with an attempted coup d'état. The investigation has failed to conclude this circumstance. Ultimately, the restrictions on entry into the Parliament during the fall session in 2019 were blamed on the malfunctioning of the permit control system.
Entry into the Parliament is possible with a special permit, which can be issued by the Members of the Parliament and some staff of the office of the Parliament. According to the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament, members of the public can also attend parliamentary committee sessions. The rules of entry into the building of the Parliament is regulated by the Order on the Chairman of the Parliament On Security Control Arrangements in the Palace of the Parliament of Georgia and Adjacent Territory. According to this Order, the right to issue an entry permit can be restricted only on the grounds of imposing stricter security control. According to the law, Members of the Parliament cannot be denied entry into the Parliament, nor can an upper threshold limit be imposed on the number of entry permits issued by them.
Improving the transparency and openness of the Parliament is considered to be one of the principal achievements of the state legislature.
In 2015, the Parliament of Georgian signed the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness and joined the Open Government Partnership, which implied commitments on improving transparency and public participation. According to Article 28 of the Declaration of Parliamentary Openness, the Parliament and its plenary sessions shall be physically accessible and open to all citizens, subject only to demonstrable public safety and space limitation.
An important achievement of the Parliament in improving openness and transparency was the simplification of the rules of access to the state legislature, which was a commitment under the Open Parliament Action Plans (2015-2016 and 2017-2018). These action plans were developed in close collaboration with the civil society space, and the Parliament of Georgia was awarded the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Government Champions Award for its support of OGP principles and demonstrating exemplary practice.
Much to our regret, recent developments have demonstrated that restrictions on entry into the Parliament were not based on security control measures and that its true purpose was keeping out critically disposed groups from the parliamentary committee sessions.
Parliamentary openness and transparency is a prerequisite for the democratic development of Georgia. It is important for the Parliament of Georgia to maintain and keep up with its achievements of openness and transparency of recent years for which it had gained international recognition.
We hereby address the Open Governance Permanent Parliamentary Council, within its framework of monitoring parliamentary openness and open governance, to investigate and provide its assessment on the entry restrictions into the Parliament that were imposed on citizens and Members of the Parliament following the June 20 events.