TBILISI, DFWatch – City authorities in Tbilisi have decided to not allow the opposition Georgian Dream movement to erect a stage on the freedom square to be used during a mass rally.
The opposition movement led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has been running commercials for weeks, encouraging people to come to Freedom Square on Georgia’s national day to support its drive to remove President Saakashvili from power in an election in October.
Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association (GYLA), Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF), Transparency Georgia and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) call Tbilisi City Hall’s decision a restriction of freedom of assembly.
The official reason for the refusal was that the stage would obstruct traffic. A video shows a member of Georgian Dream and representative of City Hall talking, and the latter justifies his position by that according to law blockage of the road is illegal.
But Georgian Dream activists claim that the work necessary for assembling the stage will not cause a full stoppage of traffic. The four organizations argue there is an article in the law which alllows the partial blocking of traffic in order to repect the freedom of assembly if the number of demonstrators requires it, which they say applies to this case. Moreover, they say the section which says it is illegal to block the road should be interpreted narrowly and only covers cases where the traffic is blocked intentionally and not due to the demonstrational needs.
The four organizations appeal to city hall with a statement that this decision is an unjustified restriction of freedom of assembly. In their opinion, city hall’s application of the law is formalistic, while according to the OSCE manual of peaceful assembly this is unacceptable. Now there must be a dialogue between organizers and city hall officials directed at achieving a consensus acceptable for both sides, they write.