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Public Defender of Georgia calls on Gov’t to protect freedom of expression of LGBT+ community

By Levan Abramishvili
Wednesday, November 6
The Public Defender of Georgia addressed the Prime Minister and the Minister of Internal Affairs on November 4 with a general proposal to discuss individual cases of violation of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly of the LGBT+ community in recent years to be discussed on the state policy level in order to plan out preventive and reactive measures.

The Ombudsman overviewed the situation of the realization of freedom of expression of LGBT+ community in the country. The review was based on the individual incidents that took place from September 2018 to July 2019.

In particular, it focused on the prohibition on the usage of LGBT + symbols at a football match on September 9, 2018, as well as developments around the ‘Dignity March’ scheduled for June 18-23, 2019, and the alarming tendency of the strengthening of homophobic ultra-nationalistic far-right groups.

The Public Defender points out that the measures taken by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to protect the right to freedom of expression for LGBT+ people are vague and do not confirm the existence of a systematic view of human rights protection and the analysis of the potential consequences of the cases.

The document also indicates that the MIA considers the dangers, which emanate from specific groups and are aimed at restricting the freedom of expression of LGBT+ individuals and their supporters, and the freedom of expression of human rights defenders and equality supporters within the same legal framework.

In its general proposal, the Public Defender also emphasized the obligation of the MIA to protect the safety of journalists; Ensure that media representatives perform their professional duties without hindrance and provide a timely and adequate legal response to the cases of illegal interference with the professional activities of journalists.

Considering the above, the Ombudsman urged officials to take effective preventive and proactive measures to safeguard freedom of expression for LGBT+ people and to investigate effectively the incidents that took place in front of the Chancellery of Government on 14 June 2018. As well as investigating the compliance of the statements of Levan Vasadze with the law and providing information about the progress of the investigation to the public.

In June of this year, several activists gathered in front of the Chancellery of the Government of Georgia, demanding from the Government to respond to the statement issued by the Georgian Patriarchate, where they ask the officials to prevent the holding of the Pride march, since its aim was to provoke ‘unrest and conflict’ in Georgia. It also mentioned that LGBT+ people were faking being persecuted for gaining grants from foreign donors.

A group of homophobic, ultra-nationalistic, far-right activists, led by well-known radicals like Levan Vasadze and Guram Palavandishvili quickly mobilized and held a counter-protest in front of the governmental building.

The counter-protesters tried to break through the police cordon separating the two rallies and threw eggs at the peaceful demonstrators and journalists. A total of 28 persons, all from the counter-protest, were arrested that day for resistance to police and petty hooliganism.

During the same period, Vasadze demanded the adoption of the so-called “anti-gay propaganda law”. The law was adopted in Russia in 2013, officially called The Russian federal law "for Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values", the law has been criticized by numerous international organizations, including the European Court of Human Rights, which called the law discriminatory, encouraging homophobia.

The second case that the Ombudsman refers to happened in September of 2018, where several people wore rainbow-colored armbands to a football match in Tbilisi in order to show their support for one of the Georgian players, Guram Kashia, who had won the Equal Game award by UEFA for promoting diversity, inclusion, and equality in the European football. He who harshly criticized by the abovementioned ultra-nationalistic groups for wearing a rainbow-colored armband during a match.

The applicants, who brought their case against Georgia to the European Court of Human Rights allege that the police did not allow them to enter the stadium with their armbands. Most of their posters, flags, stickers, and banners with LGBT symbols were confiscated at the entrance.

Vasadze has recently announced he will prevent the screening of a Georgian-Swedish filmmaker Levan Akin's movie ‘And Then We Danced’ in Tbilisi cinemas because it represents “homosexual propaganda”. The critically acclaimed movie will be screened in Georgian cinemas for only three days on November 8, 9 and 10.

As exemplified by the above mentioned cases, the LGBT+ community in Georgia is largely deprived of their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

According to the Public Defender of Georgia, the Georgian LGBT “community has failed so far to exercise freedom of expression without substantial violations, including situations, where their physical security was at stake.”