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28 MEPs call on Georgia to defend the Pride March

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Wednesday, June 30
In a joint June 28 address coming ahead of the Pride celebrations slated for July 1-5 in capital Tbilisi city, members of the European Parliament's LGBTIQ+ Group are urging Georgia to adhere to the dignity march and ensure that its obligations under the Association Agreement are met.

The addressee of the letter, which is signed by 28 MPs, is the Minister of Internal Affairs, Vakhtang Gomelauri. Along with Gomelauri, the addressees are EU Ambassador Carl Hartzel and Joseph Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

They write that Pride demonstrations are a peaceful tool of political advocacy and one of the ways to materialize the universal right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and an important step for LGBTQ activists and community members to increase their visibility and reach out to the public. It is in this context that they write to Gomelauri, asking "not only that the Pride be held in the name of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, but that all preparations be made to protect the right of protesters to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."

MEPs write that the last comment of Irakli Kobakhidze, the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, when he said that in his opinion, the march of dignity should not take place, stating it is against universal human rights.

The signatories also noted that Georgia has commitments under European Convention on Human Rights and the Association Agreement with the EU to tackle discrimination against women, LGBT persons, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. “We have seen how in previous years homophobic groups have taken advantage of these celebrations to build on their hatred and attack LGBTI peaceful protesters.

MEPs also recalled a 2012 decision by the ECHR which recognised that Georgia’s failure to protect peaceful demonstrators amounted to a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) taken in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). The case pertained to a peaceful demonstration in celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia and Interphobia and applicants complained that the police authorities had failed to protect them from violent counter-protesters and to investigate the incident, namely the discriminatory motive behind it.

Parliamentarians noted that since then Georgia has invested in capacity-building training to police officers on hate crime and hate-speech in partnership for instance with the CoE, which has led no doubt to their improved awareness, knowledge and capacity. “We are certain that these trainings will bear results in providing the necessary support to the upcoming Pride events,” the letter reads, asking the EU Delegation in Georgia to follow up on the elements raised above.

Georgian far-right, pro-Russian, violent and homophobic groups in Georgia , and those affiliated with the newly founded ultraconservative movement ERI, have announced plans to mobilize in parallel with the organizers of the Pride and hold a counter-rally during the July 5.

The Public Defender calls on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to take preventive steps to ensure that all manifestations of violence during the Tbilisi Pride March are insured and all citizens can express their position peacefully.

The Charles Michel Michel Reform Group invites the Minister of Internal Affairs to the Parliament to listen to Gomelauri explain how the state intends to ensure the security of Tbilisi Pride Week.

US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan told Tbilisi Pride Week that Georgia has been fighting for human rights for years, and it is unfortunate that some people want to use violence to violate fundamental human rights, such as the right to free assembly and expression.

According to her, in a democratic country, people have the right to express their will. “All this creates a serious problem for law enforcement agencies, which have an obligation to protect people, the right to free assembly, to express their opinions. In a democracy, people have a fundamental right to express their will,” Degnan said.

According to Tbilisi Mayor and gen-sec of Georgian Dream, Kakha Kaladze, holding pride week is not appropriate, because there are specific people, specific groups who can misuse it, both on one side and on the other, however, he says that freedom of expression is protected in the country and one wouldn’t be able to bring a single case to prove otherwise.

Aleko Elisashvili, a former Tbilisi mayoral candidate and a member of the Georgian parliament, is calling on LGBTQ human rights activists to restrain from holding March. “Why is this pride being held, which has no result other than hatred and a revival of pro-Russian forces? I just do not understand it ... if they restrain themselves, it will be very good,” he said.

Recall that In 2019, LGBTIQ+ Pride Week was planned for the first time in Tbilisi, which was supposed to be crowned with a ‘march of honor’ on any street in the city. The organizers immediately had a communication with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which, as they said, first advised the activists to march indoors, and then could not guarantee their safety at all.

At the same time, the Orthodox Church called on the authorities not to allow a parade in Tbilisi. Levan Vasadze, a businessman known for his homophobic sentiments and founder of ERI, said that Tbilisi was forming ‘self-organized groups’ against Pride and its supporters. Against the background of lack of guarantees, Tbilisi Pride activists held a partisan march in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs building. 2 years later, the church has addressed Georgian officials with the same request and it is unknown whether the organizers will be able to hold the Pride safely.