TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) has established many prohibitions on the use of photographic equipment at election precincts, which in fact restricts and makes it impossible to take photos on Election Day.

Use of photos may document election irregularities and even prevent fraud, but the government has tried to bar observers from filming and taking photos in election precincts. Initially, it failed due to pressure from activists. But with the help of part of the opposition, the CEC has now introduced so many restrictions that in practice, taking photos of the voting process is forbidden.

After a decision by the CEC, it is prohibited to take photos or video of a voting booth from any distance. Earlier, you could prove with photos or video that several people were in one booth at the same time, including voter, member of commission or party. Today this is prohibited.

The media is only allowed to record a commission member, a party representative or an observer outside the precinct, which means it will be impossible to record them, as a commission member has specific functions and can’t leave the precinct.

Special places are allocated where will be located those who want to take photos – whether it is the media or observing observers. It is written that they have a right to be there as long as they want, but it is also written that if you leave the place at least with one step or you leave the precinct at least once, then they will be prohibited to make photo or video footage for a whole day. This means that if you want to send material from precinct you will have to leave, but then you will be unable to come back and take more photos or video.

One media outlet representative has only ten minutes to freely take footage during the day of voting and if they want to make footage then they should stay at this special place, which is at least three meters away from the subject being filmed. This place should be allocated so that the election box is seen, but anyone can stand in front of it and put ballots in it, but no one will have a right to go to a place from which this process is well seen, as the commission can decide to throw them out from the precinct.

CEC made this decision on Monday despite resistance from civil society.

The legislation allows photo and video shooting on Election Day. An amendment was made to the law when the government prohibited the installation of surveillance cameras at election precincts based on a recommendation from the Venice Commission. The argument was that a person may not make a free choice if there is a camera inside the voting booth.

But the government then wrote into the law that the recording of photos and video is allowed at election precincts.

This amendment was made in 2011, and everyone knows that shooting is allowed. This is necessary in order to observe violations so as to have evidence for court cases.

But Sunday afternoon, CEC unexpectedly decided to prohibit the right to take photos and video, despite the fact that the legislation guarantees this right. They planned to define which actions will be defined as interruption of the election process and they wanted to include the right to shoot photos and video.

This initiative occurred after the main opposition bloc stated that if the government committed fraud in this election, they would be able to prove it by photographic evidence from election precincts. They would prove if one person votes several times, a method the government has used successfully in previous elections.

CEC head Zurab Kharatishvili said the voters may consider having photo and video cameras at precincts a form of harassment, which will interrupt the process.

The issue wasn’t reviewed on Sunday as a result of civil society activism but rescheduled for Monday.

Despite resistance from civil society, CEC still made a decision to bring in these new regulations with the help of the opposition Christian Democrats, who are considered to be a ‘satellite’ party to the government. The CEC lacked one vote to make a decision and it was a Christian Democrat representative who helped the ruling party make a decision possible.

Non-governmental organizations say that this decision is illegal and they plan to appeal it.

“We think the Election Code perfectly regulated problems in regards of media and observers, and possible incidents of interruption. The new decision establishes many barriers for journalists and observers. I mean the regulation by which if a person leaves the place then they aren’t allowed to come back,” says Eka Popkhadze from Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA).

She adds that GYLA will present its objections regarding this issue to international organizations.