Parliament launched discussion of a package of legislative amendments, involving tightening laws on rallies and punishment for various administrative offenses and also allowing police to use less-lethal weapons.
Speaking at the session of the parliamentary committee for European integration on July 3, MP Lasha Tordia of the ruling party, who is among sponsors of the draft amendments, said proposals were drafted base on the experience gained from the opposition’s three-month long street protests.
Lawmakers from the ruling party say that the proposed amendments would not be passed by the Parliament hastily and the legislative body would likely approve the proposal in September.
Pikria Chikhradze of the opposition New Rights Party, part of Alliance for Georgia, said the amendments, if approved, would “complicate the opposition’s struggle seriously.”
“The proposed amendments indicate that the authorities have studied the opposition’s protest tactic and practice and are now trying to address and shut all those directions applied by the opposition during the protests,” Chikhradze said in an interview with the Georgian daily Rezonansi.
Amendments in Law on Rallies
According to the proposal, during the protest rally it is prohibited to block streets “artificially” and “deliberately” either by protesters themselves or with “various types of constructions and/or objects.”
The wording in the current law on rallies says that it is banned “to deliberately create obstacles to the work of public transport.”
“In future, blocking of streets with ‘cells’ or other types of constructions will be reacted upon and the law enforcement agencies will take appropriate measures,” MP Pavle Kublashvili of the ruling party, who is a co-sponsor of the draft, said.
Also the proposed amendments would specify that blocking of a street would only be allowed if the number of protesters is large enough and holding of a rally requires space on traffic lanes.
According to the current law a group of protesters can hold a rally without any prior notification of the authorities if they do not intend to block the streets. In case protesters plan to block a street, organizers of a rally have simply to notify about their intention to the local municipality in advance and the municipality can reject the notification if some other event is already planned at the same venue indicated by organizers.
Amendments in Law on Police
According to the amendments non-lethal projectiles will be added to that list of special equipment and appliances, which can be used by police including for riot control purposes.
Currently the law on police does not include less-lethal weapons in the list of special means and equipment, which can be used by the police.
The draft amendments also specifies circumstances in which police will be eligible to use less-lethal weapons, in particular to repel an attack on policemen; on high security facilities; to prevent violation of public order by a group of individuals; in arresting criminal suspects.
Riot police used extensively rubber bullets while dispersing anti-government demonstrations on November 7, 2007. Rubber bullets and other type of impact projectiles were also used on May 6, 2009 against protesters outside the Tbilisi police headquarters. According to the Public Defender two protesters lost sight in one eye after being hit with projectiles on May 6.
Amendments in Law on Administrative Offenses
The draft amendments to the code of administrative offences envisage increasing of prison term for a number of offences from the current 30 days to 90 days.
According to the amendments, “blocking” buildings of key state agencies, also holding of a rally in 20-meter radius from courts’ entrance or at a house of a judge will be punishable with 90-day imprisonment.
Disobedience of legal orders by the police will also fall under the same punishment. The same offense may also be punished with fine worth of ten-fold of minimal salary or six-month of compulsory work.
A GEL 500 fine is envisaged, according to the amendment, for those persons, who without permission of relevant authorities make graffiti on the walls of administrative buildings and near them, as well as on the roads. In case of reoccurrence of the offence a person will be fined with GEL 1,000 or will be sent to jail for 30-day administrative punishment.
Making anti-government graffiti on the walls of various state agencies has been practiced by the pro-opposition youth groups during the ongoing protests.
A person will have to pay a GEL 100 fine or go to jail for 90 days for such offenses like swearing in public places, insulting citizens and “other similar actions, which violate public order and citizens’ calmness.”
According to the amendments, driving licenses will be seized for two years from those drivers, who block the street with their cars in an organized way or move in the city or other settlement in a group. As part of ongoing protests, opposition has once briefly blocked a highway outside the Interior Ministry including with cars. The amendment also refers to the opposition’s practice of organizing convoy of cars – the practice used when the opposition brought supporters from the provinces.