John Bass, the U.S. ambassador in Georgia, said on Wednesday that “a serious investigation of apparent police violence” during January 3 protest on Heroes’ Square and on the other hand “some steps to make sure that everyone in the society understands ground rules regarding protests and those types of activities around national monuments” should be undertaken.
“I am disturbed by the reports of violence committed by the police against protesters. That type of violence does not have a place in democratic societies,” Bass told journalists on January 5.
He said that he was “pleased” to see statement of Georgian Public Defender, Giorgi Tugushi, on that incident and his concerns about the actions inconsistent to the Georgian law.
“We hope for and expect there will be a full investigation of these allegations, including a close examination of what appears to be some good video evidence of potential police violence,” the U.S. ambassador said.
He declined to speak about the court ruling against 11 protesters who were detained on January 3 and released next day after being fined by the court with GEL 400 each; he said the court proceeding was a matter of the Georgian law and “the Public Defender is better positioned to comment on that.”
“What I would say is all of our societies have places that are hallowed ground and there needs to be appropriate respect… for that place and yet at the same time respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly so that people have a legitimate right to protest and express opinions in appropriate places,” John Bass said.
He was referring to the venue of the protest of veterans of Georgia’s armed conflicts, who were camped for hunger strike at the memorial of the Georgian fallen soldiers from December 27 before January 3 when they were dispersed by the police.
“For our own situation in the United States the freedom of assembly does not mean anyone can assemble anytime, anywhere and certainly within the scope of national monuments, respecting our war dead, people who sacrificed for our countries. We have some restrictions on who can protest and where; those are clearly spelled out and I think part of the challenge here may be that it was not well understood and well publicized for all citizens of Georgia to understand necessarily what the rules were regarding the memorial at Heroes’ Square,” Bass said.