The Georgian Far-right through the Lens of Freedom of Expression
Government Responses to Violations of Freedom of Expression
On the one hand, in particular cases, the government has insufficiently responded to the threats and violence of far-right groups directed towards peaceful protesters or minorities. On the other hand, in certain instances the state fails to clearly substantiate the grounds for restriction of the right to free speech and expression of certain groups. Considering that the right to free speech and assembly constitutes a fundamental right in democratic societies, unequal access of different society groups to that fundamental right is a significant problem and requires a sufficient and effective state response.
Insufficient government responses can be exemplified by the fact that despite public statements of the public defender and the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association emphasizing that far-right groups’ attack on the Rustavi 2 journalists contained signs of unlawful interference with journalistic work, the investigation did not qualify the case as such. Ensuring high standards of free speech and expression of mass media is exceptionally important. Therefore, the government response towards attempts to violate free speech needs to be instant, effective, and sufficient. Furthermore, despite actions taken by law enforcement agencies some citizens were still deprived of the possibility to watch the movie “And Then We Danced”. The main problem with the aforementioned case was that despite the publicly voiced threats by the far-right groups earlier, state agencies did not take preventive measures, could not manage to maintain a safe distance between the confronting groups, and could not ensure citizens’ uninterrupted entry to the movie theatre as well as their overall safety.
With reference to the restriction of the right to free speech and expression from the government’s side, according to the law, such restriction needs to be based on incontrovertible evidence. The aforementioned principle is not always strictly followed, which has a negative impact on the standard of freedom of expression in the country. In particular, representatives of sexual minorities and their supporters were deprived of the possibility to fully exercise the right to free speech and assembly when the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia refused to guarantee the safety of the “Tbilisi Pride” participants and organizers in the face of threats coming from far-right groups. Moreover, the restriction was not well-grounded from the government’s side. With the same argument to ensure public safety, some citizens were not allowed to bring LGBTQI themed items to the stadium during the Georgia-Latvia football match in 2018. Non-governmental organizations assessed the aforementioned case as a restriction of the freedom of expression, which was not comprehensively substantiated. The same can be said about the case when for the purpose of preventing the possible confrontation with the far-right groups, police officers asked the citizens to remove rainbow flags from their own windows.
Equal and unrestricted exercise of the right to free speech and expression is essential for a competitive environment, which ensures the existence of different ideas and pluralism in all areas of public life. The radicalized far-right groups have not yet managed to enter the Parliament of Georgia. However, through rallies and counter-rallies those groups have a significant effect on media discourse as well as on the exercise of the right to free speech and expression by different societal groups. Therefore, an effective government response is essential in order to ensure the equal exercise of the aforementioned right, including but not limited to preventive efforts, keeping safe physical distance between confronting groups, and administering appropriate punishments to offenders.