No to Phobia: Response Regarding the Events of 8 November 2019
The civic platform No to Phobia responds to the events unfolded on 8 November 2019 regarding the premiere of the film "And Then We Danced". We believe that the measures taken by law-enforcement authorities were not sufficient to prevent the actions of violent groups and the threats emanating from them. The state authorities must take appropriate measures and take an unequivocal stance to fight hate crimes. It is also necessary to take measures to curb the increasing trend of the actions committed by violent groups, which are divisive and contribute to intolerance towards vulnerable groups.
In the evening of 8 November, a few hours before the movie premiere, violent groups gathered in front of several movie theatres in Tbilisi and Batumi. The meetings were preceded by their leaders’ aggressive statements and calls to storm movie theatres and disrupt the movie’s screening. The situation became especially tense near the movie theatre Amirani, where violent demonstrators repeatedly tried to push through the police cordon. There were also several violent actions. For instance, a demonstrator threw a hard object at Ana Subeliani, a civic activist, and inflicted a serious injury on her head. Furthermore, politician David Berdzenishvili also became a victim of aggression. He was escorted by the police from the movie theatre. During the demonstration, the violent groups constantly made homophobic and aggressive chants filled with threats towards those entering the movie theatre to watch the movie. The demonstrators and one of their leaders, Levan Vasadze, insulted journalists and in some cases obstructed their professional activities.
The fact that the authorities ignored the statements made by the violent groups’ leaders before the premiere should be negatively assessed. They have made open threats and called upon their supporters to disrupt the screening. Response to such statements, at least the institution of an investigation, could have a preventive effect and prevent the aggression of the violent groups.
It is evident that violent groups became more active in the past few years. Their aggressive actions have become the ground for illegal restriction of peaceful assembly on numerous occasions in the past (for instance, the demonstration held after the special operation at the Basiani Club, demonstrations held after the 20 June events, the Tbilisi Pride etc). Also, often these groups become active when public groups indignant with the governmental policies engage in peaceful protest. Unfortunately, none of the violent demonstrations held in the past has been followed up by the authorities. The calls of the said groups’ leaders for violence are ignored. The approach taken by the government tolerates violence, incites aggression even further and contributes to dangerous violent groups becoming more influential.
The existing situation is particularly aggravated by the possible ties of the violent groups with Russia and the indifferent approach of the authorities taken towards the potential risks related to the rising of influence of these groups. For instance, the head of the Primakov Foundation in Georgia, Dimitry Lortkipanidze, was particularly active during the demonstration.
It is also noteworthy that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are undoubtedly the corner-stone rights and achievements in a democratic society, which should be enjoyed equally by any member of the public, including radical groups. However, in those circumstances where there is a clear and present danger that a protest will become violent, there is a legitimate ground for the authorities to prevent such actions with proportionate measures.
Therefore, we call upon the law-enforcement authorities:
- To institute an investigation against organisers of the violent demonstration on 8 November under group violence;
- To identify hate motive in each crime committed during the demonstration and conduct an effective investigation with the respective motive, which should ultimately lead to punishing each offender; and
- The Ministry of Internal Affairs should take appropriate and effective measures to ensure peaceful screening of the movie scheduled on 9 and 10 November.
We also call upon the Government of Georgia to display foresight by not taking a tolerant approach towards violent groups, to elaborate policy for curbing the influence of these groups and establish a safe and tolerant environment in the society.
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia)
Institute for Democracy and Safe Development (IDSD)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Media Development Foundation (MDF)
Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI)
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)
Human Rights Centre (HRC)
Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS)