Peaceful assembly affected by state of emergency amid Covid 19 outbreak; Residents of Shukruti village protest against the activities of mining company Georgian Manganese LLC; CSOs denounce hate speech and xenophobia amid Coronavirus outbreak
Peaceful Assembly affected by Coronavirus measures
On 21st March 2020, the President of Georgia signed a decree declaring a state of emergency throughout the country in efforts to curb the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). The decree restricts rights and freedoms such as the freedom of assembly, and applies to any meetings, demonstrations and crowds, besides exceptional cases determined by the Government of Georgia.
Since February 17, Shukruti dwellers have been blocking the Shukruti mine in protest against mining activities carried out by #Georgia|n Manganese LLC which, as they claim, significantly damage the environment and their houses https://t.co/sEUzmlSUvk@Ombudsman_Geo— Civil.ge (@CivilGe) March 2, 2020
Shukruti residents protest against mining activities
In mid-February 2020, residents of the western Georgian village of Shukruti in Chiatura municipality, Imereti region, began protests against the activities of mining company Georgian Manganese LLC, which according to them had caused damage to dozens of families’ homes and to the environment. According to Civil.ge, citing the Ombudsman, Nino Lomjaria, due to the 24-hour mining activities in the village, the houses of almost 280 families were damaged. Several houses were completely ruined while plots of agricultural land collapsed in several places. Notably, this was not the first time the residents had protested over this issue. Last year local residents held protests raising the same concerns, but verbal agreements reached with the company were violated.
Lomjaria said that the residents would continue to protest until the authorities take the necessary measures to protect their health and properties. She also asked the state agencies and other public institutions to investigate the impact of the company’s activities and called on the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development to mediate in the conflict between locals and the company.
CSOs denounce hate speech and xenophobia amid Coronavirus outbreak
On 25th March 2020, the Georgian civil society platform dubbed ”No Phobia”, which includes several NGOs in the country, published a statement denouncing the inter-ethnic hate speech which was being promoted after the Coronavirus outbreak.
It noted widespread xenophobia targeting ethnic Azeris who live in Marneuli and Bolnisi, areas which were designated as quarantine zones after a resident tested positive for Coronavirus in March 2020. Because of this, several hate and discriminatory messages were published on social media by members of the public. Civil.ge reported that several ethnic Azerbaijani civic activists noted that some users went as far as demanding the expulsion of ethnic Azerbaijani citizens of Georgia from the country.
New report on freedom of expression released
In late January 2020, the Georgian Democracy Initiative released a report on freedom of expression in Georgia. The report, published with the support of the Open Society Georgia Foundation, discusses issues around freedom of the press, hate speech, access to public utility information and the rights of persons belonging to minority groups (LGBTIQ community and ethnic minorities). The report also contains a separate chapter which analyses freedom of expression in the context of protests that took place in 2019, during which authorities tried to limit the right to information.