EMC responds to the threats of violence against LGBTQI activists Koba Bitsadze and Beka Gabadadze

Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) responds to the threats of violence and death expressed via Facebook towards LGBTQI activists Koba Bitsadze and Beka Gabadadze by ultranationalist groups and calls on the State for effective positive measures and relevant protection of victims.

Due to their public activity, Koba Bitsadze and Beka Gabadadze have recently been intensely receiving  individual and public messages containing threats of violence from the side of different ultranationalist aggressive groups, including the members of ‘Georgian’s Marsh’ and national-socialist movement ‘Georgia’s Unity’. Public statements calling for the suppression of activists’ public activities have also been made by the ‘Society of Child Rights’ Protection.” Several articles have been dedicated to this topic by ‘Asaval-dasavali’ newspaper as well.[1] On November 1, 2017 Facebook user ‘White Nazi’, who is an identified, particular person made statements containing brutality and threats and repeated this several times.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has started investigating this fact on the bases of article 151(Threatening) of the Criminal Code of Georgia. Interests of activists for the purposes of investigation are protected by EMC.

Despite the mentioned fact, it is important that the State properly considers the social significance of such offences and gives relevant legal and political assessment to the  case.

As visible from factual circumstances of the case, threats directed towards K. Bitsadze and B. Gabadadze are related to their sexual orientation and public activism. Revealed facts of threatening are basically intended to intimidate activists, force them to terminate their activities, humiliate and discriminate them on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity.   Different episodes of hate speech and threatening expressed in social network, their quality and intensity may cause moral suffering and feelings of vulnerability in victims and lead to a forced change of their daily lives. Mentioned circumstances indicate that the offence falls within the sphere of protection of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and reaches the brutality margin of inhumane and/or degrading treatment, requiring proper and adequate response and effective prevention from the side of law enforcement agencies.

In cases of violence by private individuals, prevential obligation of the State is examined by the European Court of Human Rights according to ‘the state was aware or it should have been aware of the violence’ standard and the Court requires from the State an adequate assessment of risks and protection of victims’ safety using all reasonable measures at its disposal. Interrelated, repeated facts of constraint and threats of violence of identical content directed towards activists, expressed by aggressive groups that have taken part in violent incidents in the past, are involved in the present case and this obliges the state to jointly review the cases and take effective preventive measures.

In this regard, extremely complex legal and social status of LGBTQI individuals living in Georgia should be noted, expressed in violence towards members of this group, their assassination, and continued practice of their discrimination, further encouraged by State’s ineffective policy towards hatred motivated crime, environment of impunity and institutionalized homo/transphobia.  State’s ineffective policy on such crimes obviously affects the process of building equal, plural and solidary society and complicates peaceful coexistence of different groups.

In its 2016 Report on Georgia, European Commission  against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) emphasized the problem of homo/transphobic hate speech expressed online. According to the Report, such an expression not only restores stereotypes against LGBT groups but also includes calls for violence. [2] In addition, the Commission negatively assessed the State’s ineffective response and unserious consideration of the past facts of violence towards LGBT organizations and individuals, regardless of its recurrence and relevance.[3]

It should be noted that the well-established jurisprudence of the European Court emphasizes the fundamental significance of the freedom of expression in a democratic society, including opinions that might be insulting, shocking or disturbing for the part of the population. However, the Court clearly notes that such forms of expression as racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism, aggressive nationalism, homophobia, are not protected by the righ of the freedom of expression.  States are obliged to not permit the usage of language that stirs up discrimination and hatred, since similar expressions may generate such responses in the society that are incompatible with the peaceful existence of the community and that undermine the confidence towards democratic institutions.[4]

The obligation of States to respect and provide all persons under its jurisdiction, without any distinction, with recognized rights implies not only a negative obligation – not to interfere with the practice of mentioned rights by individuals, but to also proactively prevent violence coming from third parties and eliminate barriers for the usage of mentioned rights. The latter, among others, involves fighting with discriminative practice and attitudes.[5]  States are obliged to not only achieve formal equality but to recognize structural inequality and discrimination of minority groups and implement a systematic policy in this regard.

The State has an obligation to prevent and investigate not only the facts of violance in case of which substantial damage was established but also the calls for violence with regards to LGBT groups. International Institutions call on States to publicly denounce mentioned acts and inform the public on case proceedings.[6] State, allowing illegal activities by third parties or not taking relevant measures with rgeards to these activities and lack of due diligence towards crime prevention, investigation, punishment and compensation of damages will cause unconditional violation of obligations recognized by international and national legislations by the State.[7]

Considering the afore-mentioned, we think it is important that the State recognizes the burden of damage experienced by Koba Bitsadze and Beka Gabadadze as well as the scale of potential risks and comprehends negative social  consequences of  replicating homophobia and transphobia.

Accordingly, EMC calls on:

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgian and the Prosecutor’s Office to ensure   a joint review of  different episodes of threatening towards Koba Bitsadze and Beka Gabadadze and assess them in the context of  inhumane and degrading treatement. In this regard, it is important to assess mentioned activities according to the standard established by the article 144 3 of the Criminal Code and also to  identify the motive for hate speech in the case.  It is also essential that the Prosecutor’s Office assigns the status of a Victim to activists and ensures timely interrogation of identified persons;

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgian and the Prosecutor’s Office  again to take effective preventive measures (including continuous monitoring of the activities of ultraconservative groups and their communication in social networks in order to adequately evaluate risks associated with these groups; Disseminating critical public statements against such incidents) and to implement special preventive measures (including alarm calls) for the victims;

The Government of Georgia to understand risks of violence and extremism coming from ultra-conservative aggressive groups, as well as social and political causes of violent radicalization of young people and plan a complex social and educational policy in order to prevent such movements. It is also essential that the Government strengthens public rethoric on human rights and equality.

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[1] For example, find the article for ‘Asaval-dasavali’ newspaper (edition  of July 24 № 30 (1184),title: “ the government is sending homosexuals to our children in summer camps”
[2] ECRI report on Georgia, article. 38: https://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/ecri/Country-by-country/Georgia/GEO-CbC-V-2016-002-ENG.pdf
[3] ECRI report on Georgia, article. 63: https://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/ecri/Country-by-country/Georgia/GEO-CbC-V-2016-002-ENG.pdf
[4] AFFAIRE FERET c. BELGIQUE, 16/07/2009, article. 77: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-93626 , see also, CASE OF LINDON, OTCHAKOVSKY-LAURENS AND JULY v. FRANCE, 22 October 2007, article. 55: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-82846
[5] A/HRC/29/23, Discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 4 May 2015, article. 10
[6] A/HRC/29/23, Discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 4 May 2015, article. 11
[7] CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add. 1326 May 2004, Human Rights Committee, General Comment 31: The Nature of the General Legal Obligation Imposed on States Parties to the Covenant, article. 8.