A group of civil society organizations called on the Parliament to suspend endorsement of a controversial package of amendments into laws on police, rallies and administrative offenses.
The package, which was passed with its first reading last week, will be discussed with its second hearing by the lawmakers on July 15.
“We see this package as a step back in the path to democracy,” a joint statement by ten civil society organizations, joined by some journalists, reads.
"Adoption of the amendments under current political circumstances indicates that the Government does not make an effort to overcome internal crisis through a dialogue, cooperation or compromise, but rather stirs up the confrontation and creates risk of escalated violence," the statement reads.
It was joined by Open Society Georgia Foundation (part of the Soros Foundations Network); Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA); International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy; Transparency International–Georgia; European Integration Forum; Public Movement “Multinational Georgia”; National Union of Education; Union “21st Century”; Union of Georgian Lawyers and Caucasus Women’s Network.
The statement called on the Parliament not to pass the package with its second and third hearings unless the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional and legal issues, Venice Commission, provides its advice on the matter.
Lawmakers from the ruling party say that the package will be passed prior to those recommendations, but they also say that the Parliament would be ready to get back to discussions and amend laws based on the Venice Commission recommendations.
“We will send the law for expertise to the Venice Commission as soon as amendments are approved; so we should pass [the package] soon,” MP Pavle Kublashvili of the ruling party, a co-sponsor of the package, said on July 15.
At the time when the package was initiated in early July, the ruling party lawmakers were saying that the proposal would not be passed hastily and the legislative body would likely approve the proposal in September.
Tamar Khidasheli, head of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, said proposal to increase maximum prison term from current 30 days up to 90 days for administrative offenses was one of the major sources of concern, especially against the background of no provision in the Georgian legislature allowing proper terms for appealing verdicts on administrative offenses to the higher court. MP Kublashvili indicated on July 14 that the provision on appealing verdicts might be addressed by the Parliament.
Tamar Khidasheli said that increase of prison term was a source of concern also because there are poor conditions in detention centers where convicts for administrative offenses are held.
“Because of absence of proper conditions [detention centers], we think, that the increase of prison term up to 90 days is not in line with European standards,” she told Civil.Ge.
She said that legalization of use of less-lethal projectile launchers by the police was not in itself undemocratic move. She said that the riot police “completely illegally” used less-lethal weapons against protesters twice in the past – on November, 2007 and May 6, 2009 – without having relevant provision in the law. Opponents of the proposed package, however, say that such provision should be accompanied by detailed regulations and specific circumstances in which police will be eligible to use less-lethal weapons.
Opponents of the package also criticize amendments to the law on rallies, which says that protesters would only be allowed to block the streets if number of demonstration participants is large enough and holding of a rally requires space on traffic lanes.
Opponents say that the provision may contravene the constitution, which sets no restrictions on holding rallies on thoroughfares based on number of protesters. Tamar Khidasheli said that “reasonable time restrictions” might be more appropriate in this case. She said that small group of protesters should not be able to block streets for a long period of times, but “reasonable timeframes” could be established and that could become a matter of discussions.
In the joint statement the group of civil society organizations called on the society to oppose approval of the proposed package of amendments describing it as “an attempt to restrict civil liberties.” It also called on the international community to actively engage in the process of legal expertise of the proposed amendments.