Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC) responds to the violent rally organized by the leaders of the Georgian March and Levan Vasadze against the premier of Levan Akin's film “And Then We Danced” and calls upon the authorities to take timely legal action against those responsible for organizing violence. The activities of these violent groups substantially undermine civil peace and security and pose vital risks to various social groups, especially for LGBT people. Hence, it is fundamentally important for the State to take adequate legal action against their leaders and refrain from tolerating crime.

Soon after the announcement about the Levan Akin film premier, the leaders of the Georgian March, as well as Levan Vasadze, publicly called on their supporters to disrupt the premier. According to Levan Vasadze, they would move the police cordons, occupy the cinema buildings and turn off the movie. The leaders of the Georgian March made statements about organizing a corridor of shame at the cinema. The Ministry of Interior Affairs has not launched an investigation into these threatening statements. However, the authorities clarified that they would take adequate preventive measures to maintain order during the premier.

On 8 November, after the midday, police began to mobilize not far from various cinemas in Tbilisi and Batumi. The biggest mobilization centre for the police was Amirani Cinema, in the vicinity of which, in Vera Park, the film opponents were gathering. In this are the police cordons fortified the cinema building, and their rows were placed mostly on the sidewalks nearby the cinema.

The opponents were mobilized in front of other cinemas too, yet in a relatively weak and nonviolent manner.

Supporters of Levan Vasadze and the Georgian Marsh began gathering near Vera Park and Philharmonic at around 5 pm. Members of the Orthodox Parents' Union (OPU) and clergymen affiliated with the organization were among them. The participants used religious attributes and rhetoric and were making homophobic statements.

After a public speech by Levan Vasadze in Vera Park, who called on the protesters to move the police cordon in order to get into the movie cinema and turn off the movie, his supporters went to Amirani Cinema. Members of the Georgian March movement joined them near Philharmonic.

At the moment the police mobilization on the way from Philharmonic to Amirani Cinema was considerably weak, making it easy for the protesters to occupy space around the movie cinema, including the roadway. Considering the high concentration of the rally participants around the movie cinema, they periodically pushed the police cordon mobilized in front of the building and tried to breakthrough. More than one violent incident occurring in the midst of an act of pushing the police cordon was recorded. Among others, the rally participants threw a stone or other solid item at Anna Subeliani, a civilian activist standing near the cinema. Ms Subeliani suffered a severe head injury and had to be hospitalized. A politician David Berdzenishvili became a victim of aggression. There were also cases of aggression against journalists and interference with their work. At some point, in the wake of the escalating situation, the Ministry added the groups of the special task force in front of the cinema.

Amidst these tensions and violent incidents, the movie ultimately premiered in cinemas.

It is important that a special meeting was also held at the Patriarchate on the evening of 8 November, but the clergy has not made any statement calling on their supporters to refrain from violence.

EMC points out that the police made a strategic mistake in managing the gathering as it failed to properly distance the violent group from the vicinity of the cinema. In doing so the police created a high risk of physical contact between the police cordons and the movie visitors in front of the cinema and the rally participants that clearly demonstrated violent intentions. It was essential that the police did not allow the rally participants to move towards the cinema building and halted their movement afar, at least adjacent to Philharmonic by means of enhanced cordon/equipment. In the event of breaking through the police resistance, the police had to take adequate legal measures against the participants.

A substantial mistake made by the authorities was to ignore the threatening statements made prior to the premier and refrain from launching an investigation into them. The investigation and interrogation of the organizers of the gathering would have a preventive function and would limit their violent initiatives. Given the context of past violent rallies organized by Levan Vasadze and the Georgian Marsh, as well as statements made directly at the scene of the incident, it was clear that they had fallen out of the sphere of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and that a timely and proper police response to their movement was essential. Unfortunately, representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the authorities made groundless statements about the protection of the freedom of assembly of violent groups and the "interest of both parties", thus legitimizing their actions.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, they arrested 11 participants during the ongoing events. The agency states that the person who subjugates Anna Subelian is also arrested.

It should be mentioned that the media broadcasted the event live throughout the day. It gave an unlimited forum to Levan Vasadze and the leaders of the Georgian March, which indirectly facilitates the spread of ideas based on inequality and violence and reinforces the influence of pro-violence leaders.

The violent groups in the recent years became active against mass social protests organized by citizens (including, the May 2018 mass youth protest against the police raids on clubs, the June 2019 mass youth anti-occupation protests, the June 2019 Tbilisi Pride spontaneous gathering in front of the Government Chancellery). The threat emerging from these groups often have become the ground for self-dissolution and limitation of the peaceful assembly. It is clear that these groups are being active precisely in the face of protests that spark strong demonstration and a sharp confrontation with the authorities. There are, at the same time, obvious signs of "legal tolerance" demonstrated by the authorities towards these groups. Therefore there is a suspicion to the effect that the government is turning these radical groups into the political instruments.

Clearly, we understand that ultra-conservative ideas in our social and political contexts may find fertile ground for dissemination. Growing poverty and economic inequality are causing social hopelessness. The concerns, interests, and needs of the majority of our society are not politically represented, which allows groups like Vasadze and the Georgian March to manipulate these groups. Given that the government does not have a coherent policy based on equality (including education and information policy) that would promote progressive political ideas and culture in the political arena, it is clear that anti-democratic ideas can easily spread. That is why it is essential to see the systemic social, political, and cultural reasons for empowering ultraconservative groups, and the State's response to our citizens united in these groups should not merely be punishment. As to the leaders and organizers of these groups, as well as to other participants of outright violence and crime, we call for a strict approach of the state and imposition of legal responsibility.

Development of society beyond fair economic and social policy is possible through participatory democratic discussions. Clearly, all ideological groups should have the opportunity to participate in this discussion, and political groups and NGOs should encourage a genuine dialogue. Obviously, conservative groups can also protest against certain issues and rallies, but this objection cannot go beyond the scope of peaceful protest and discussion. This will break our peace and destroy all opportunities for development. The unrestricted violent actions of the Georgian March, Vasadze's group are alarming and violate the foundations of a just state.

The events of 8 November once again show the growing homophobia in our society and its political instrumentalization, which primarily affects LGBT people and poses high security risks for them. This alarming situation obliges the state to take effective measures to reduce homophobia. However, there are no signs of attempts by the authorities in this regard. By contrast, in some cases, the government itself has shown the practice of political use of homophobia.

Considering the above, EMC calls upon

  • The Ministry of Interior Affairs and the Prosecutor’s Office:

To immediately launch an investigation and prosecution against Levan Vasadze, the leaders of the Georgian March and other organizers of the violent gathering, under the Criminal Code, Article 225 (organization of group violence);

To investigate other criminal offences committed on site by the participants of the gathering in effective and timely manner;

Given that the cinemas of Tbilisi and Batumi will continue showing the movie in the following days, it is essential that the Ministry of Interior Affairs takes adequate measures to effectively prevent violent attacks and incidents;

It is important to improve the police management strategies and tactics when it comes to large-scale demonstrations and ensure that the police actually warrant the separation of different groups and prevent the risk of physical contact.

  • The Prime Minister and the Government of Georgia:

Considering the risks affiliated with the tolerance of violent groups, to develop a systemic preventive policy against the violent extremist groups on time;

To develop a coherent informational and educational policy to foster equality and human rights and decrease homophobia.

Prime Minister and other high-ranking officials shall make statements unconditionally supporting equality, which will halt increasing homophobia.

  • Political Groups:

To understand their share of responsibility in the process of radicalization of such violent groups and make their rhetoric and political agenda more inclusive and fair.

  • Media:

To understand the risks stemming from providing the leaders of the radical violent groups with the unrestricted public forum and when covering the news to comprehend the importance of rational, democratic public discussion.

  • Patriarchate:

To understand the dangers of tolerance and legitimacy of violence, and, considering its high impact on society, support the ideas in favour of unconditional peace;