Public Defender of Georgia Ucha Nanuashvili believes that a draft amendment to the Code of Administrative Offences, envisaging punishment for offending religious feelings, is unconstitutional and restricts the freedom of expression.
The amendment, which has been submitted by the Interior Ministry of Georgia to parliament for consideration, addresses anything from desecrating religious institutions and symbols to offending the feelings of the faithful and envisages punishment ranging from a fine between 300 and 500 GEL for first-time offenders and up to 1,500 GEL for repeat offenders and/or 15 days in prison.
The statement of the Public Defender, released on 6 November, reads that this norm, in terms of its form and content, "poses threat to democratic development because of its capacity to quash a strong public discussion which is vitally important for democratic development."
"The only criterion for restricting the freedom of expression proposed in this amendment is 'the offence to religious feelings,' which is absolutely devoid of a possibility to be objectively assessed and subjects the freedom of expression of one person to the control of another - a believer; this is actually tantamount to granting a privilege to believers," the Public Defender says.
According to Ucha Nanuashvili, instead of encouraging pluralism and respect of different opinions in society, the proposed legislative amendment "may deepen antagonism among religious associations and people with different beliefs and opinions."
"Considering that the benefit of the proposed norm is very doubtful whereas the harm it will inflict on the freedom of expression and democracy is clear cut, this norm represents a disproportionate restriction of the freedom of expression and conflicts with the Constitution of Georgia, European Convention for Human Rights and human rights guarantees established in various international acts," the statement of Public Defender reads.
Therefore, the Public Defender appeals to the parliament of Georgia not to adopt a draft amendment of this form and content.