The police dissolution of university professors’ protest at the Rector’s office was necessary to prevent public unrest.

JUDGMENT

Tuskia and others v. Georgia 11.10.2018 (no. 14237/07)

see here

SUMMARY

Teachers’ protest at the Rector University office and police intervention. Dissolving the protest, administrative prosecutions and imposing fines on teachers. The Court held that the removal of the applicants from the Rector’s office was not disproportionate, since the protest could take place in another room of the university, while the police officers had not used violence to remove them. Imposition of small fines without any arrest or detention. Interference with the right to peaceful assembly of university professors was proportionate in the light of freedom of expression and no violation of the ECHR was found.

PROVISIONS

Article  10

Article 11

PRINCIPAL FACTS 

The case concerned a protest by professors at their university which had been broken up by the
police.

The applicants, Vakhtang Tuskia, Jemal Mebonia, Maia Natadze, Tengiz Sanadze, Giorgi Gogolashvili,
Medea Sikharulidze, Avtandil Arabuli, Gela Dolidze, and Demur Bakhtadze, are Georgian nationals.
They were born in 1935, 1939, 1929, 1930, 1948, 1955, 1953, 1963, and 1939 respectively.

Over several months in 2006 the applicants, all professors at Tbilisi State University, held meetings
on university premises to protest about ongoing reform. The protests culminated on 3 July 2006 with
the applicants and 400 other protestors calling for the acting rector’s resignation. The applicants
submit that they went to his office but left without resistance when the police intervened.

They were subsequently found liable in administrative proceedings for violating public order at the
university by forcing their way into the acting rector’s office and insulting him. They were given
fines. The domestic courts found in particular that the police’s decision to remove the applicants
from the office was to prevent further disruption and was therefore justified. They relied on
statements by ten eyewitnesses, including the police and university staff. Furthermore, all but two of
the applicants had disobeyed a lawful police order, because it had taken the police about one hour
to negotiate with them to leave the office and to agree to continue their protest in a lecture hall.

Relying in particular on Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly and
association) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicants alleged that the police’s
dispersal of their protest on 3 July 2006 and the related administrative proceedings had been
unlawful and disproportionate. They also complained under Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (d) (right to a fair
trial / right to obtain attendance and examination of witnesses) that the administrative proceedings
against them had been unfair because the courts’ decisions had been arbitrary and had been taken
without questioning either the acting rector or his deputy

THE DECISION OF THE COURT

Article 11 read in the light of Article 10

(a) Whether there had been an interference with the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly: The events which had developed subsequent to the applicants’ unauthorised entry to the acting Rector’s office did not represent a standard situation of a “peaceful assembly”. While the events at issue had happened in a situation of tension, the applicants’ conduct had not been established during the domestic proceedings to have been of a violent nature. The applicants’ protest, viewed as a whole, was not of such a nature and degree as to exclude them from the scope of protection under Article 11 read in the light of Article 10 and their removal and administrative responsibility had constituted an interference with their right to freedom of assembly.

(b) Whether the interference was prescribed by law, pursued a legitimate aim and was necessary in a democratic society

(i) Removal from the office: The interference in question had a basis in domestic law and had pursued the legitimate aims of preventing public disorder and protecting the rights of others. The behaviour of the applicants had intimidated the employees and students and had disrupted the normal functioning of the educational establishment. The applicants’ protest had at the very least impeded the work of the acting Rector and his immediate colleagues for about two hours.

The applicants had been allowed to proceed, uninterruptedly, with a pre-authorised gathering in the Grand Hall of the main University building for several hours. Subsequently, they had protested for about two hours in the office of the acting Rector. The administration of the University (including the acting Rector) − and subsequently the police – had showed the necessary tolerance. No physical force had been used by the police against the applicants. Instead, as established in the course of the domestic proceedings, police officers had negotiated with the applicants for more than an hour for their peaceful removal. Moreover, after their removal from the office they had been allowed to stay on the premises of the University and continue their protest.

In view of those considerations, and given the margin of appreciation applicable in such cases, the removal of the applicants had not been disproportionate.

(ii) The applicants’ administrative responsibility: The applicants had been found guilty of administrative offences of a minor breach of public order and resistance to the police. Their conduct had disrupted public order on the university premises. Although the police had encountered no physical resistance, the applicants’ refusal (for about an hour) to obey the police officers’ repeated requests had been deemed by the domestic court to have constituted resistance to a lawful order issued by the police, notwithstanding the fact that at the end of those negotiations the applicants had left the office voluntarily.

The administrative proceedings conducted against the applicants had resulted in the imposition of fines in the amount of approximately EUR 45. None of the applicants had been arrested or detained. In view of the overall context of the events − in particular the fact that the applicants had been allowed to protest against the ongoing University reform for months, by, among other ways, holding meetings on the premises of the University, and in view of the nature of the protest in July 2006 which had culminated with the forceful entry of the applicants into the Rector’s office, the disruption to the work of the University administration, and the refusal to obey explicit and reiterated requests of the police for them to leave the office was sufficient for the Court to conclude that the interference with the applicants’ rights under Article 11 read through the prism of Article 10 had been proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and necessary in a democratic society.

Conclusion: no violation (unanimously).

In considering the overall fairness of the proceedings, the Court also held (unanimously) that there had been no violation of Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (d) as, despite the domestic courts failure to examine the acting Rector and his deputy in court, the applicants’ defence rights had not been restricted to an extent incompatible with the guarantees provided by that Article(echrcaselaw.com editing). 


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