President of the Venice Commission, Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal and constitutional affairs, expressed confidence that Georgian authorities will take steps to protect judges of the Constitutional Court following “pressure” exerted on them by protests at their private homes.
Pro-government groups held a series of rallies outside the homes of Constitutional Court chairman Giorgi Papuashvili in Tbilisi and Batumi, condemning the Constitutional Court’s September 16 decision, which allowed ex-mayor of Tbilisi and UNM opposition party leader to be released from 14-month pre-trial detention. Protesters were calling Papuashvili a “friend” of UNM, some holding posters calling him UNM’s “slave” and accusing the Constitutional Court of taking an “anti-state” decision. Tomatoes and eggs were also thrown at Papuashvili’s home in Batumi.
On September 18 the Constitutional Court chairman called on the police to react on these cases involving “rallies outside the judges’ homes, blocking them and making threats and calling for physical retributions.” The most recent rally outside his home was held on September 21.
Under the Georgian legislation, the holding of a protest outside the residency of a judge is an administrative offense.
The Georgian code of administrative offenses says that the “blocking of entrance of a court, holding of manifestation or rally at the home of a judge or in common courts will result in an administrative imprisonment for up to 15 days.”
Voicing threats against judges is a criminal offense punishable either with fine or with up to three years in jail, according to the Georgian criminal code.
Commenting on the issue, Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili said, “I want to request that everyone, including the judges respect the right of expression and if people have something to say, they can do it in the streets. I also appeal to the citizens to respect the independence of judiciary and to express their opinion in a way that will not hamper the judiciary.”
The Constitutional Court responded with a written statement saying that Usupashvili’s comments “may be perceived as a justification and encouragement of pressure exerted on judges and their family members.”
Usupashvili dismissed Constitutional Court’s take on his comments as “completely groundless and absurd.”
President of the Venice Commission Gianni Buquicchio said in a statement on September 22, “I have learned about pressure being exercised on the judges of the Constitutional Court of Georgia and their families, notably through manifestations and pickets in front of their private homes.”
“In a democracy, the task of a Constitutional Court is to ensure the supremacy of the Constitution in the country. Its judgments are final and binding and they are executed in a state which respects the rule of law. This does not mean that the public cannot express critical views on these judgments. However, such criticism should be voiced in a respectful and legal manner. The privacy of the judges and their families has to be respected,” he said.
“I am confident that the Georgian authorities will take, in accordance with the applicable legislation, the necessary steps to protect the judges of the Constitutional Court of Georgia and their families from any harassment."