The European Court of Human Rights today found that police ill-treated NGO staff and members of the LGBT community during a homophobic raid carried out on Georgia’s first ever LGBT organisation in 2009. The Court also ruled that the Georgian authorities’ investigation into the incident was ineffective and discriminatory.
During the raid on the Tbilisi-based Inclusive Foundation (IF) in December 2009, police officers subjected those present to homophobic and transphobic abuse, threatened to publicly expose their sexual orientation to relatives, and conducted humiliating strip searches.
“It has been a long struggle for resistance. I feel that this judgment is important for all persons who are or were subject to discrimination and ill-treatment on the grounds of homophobia. We were just two applicants. But it does not mean we were alone. Our friends, colleagues, LGBT members and allies, who could not speak up because of the issues faced by coming out, stand behind us. I am proud that our response to harassment, humiliation, and a long process of surveillance and threats, was to speak up for our rights and choose not to be silenced.”
Ekaterine Aghdgomelashvili and Tinatin Japaridze, Inclusive Foundation’s co-founder and former programmes officer, respectively, later applied to the European Court. Eka is also the founder and current board member of the Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), which, at the time of the raid, was sharing an office with IF. Tinatin is also on WISG’s board.
“The Court has rightly come down hard on the appalling treatment which Eka and Tinatin faced. In finding that homophobic and transphobic hatred were at the root of the police actions, the judgment exposes systemic discriminatory attitudes within the Georgian police which must now change.”
Philip Leach, EHRAC Director
EHRAC represented Eka and Tinatin in this case. It was originally lodged by INTERIGHTS and Article 42.
What happened during the police raid?
The Inclusive Foundation (IF) was set up in 2006 to promote the integration of the LGBT community in Georgia through civil advocacy efforts to tackle homophobia. It was the first organisation to officially register as providing services to LGBT people in the country.
On the evening of 15 December 2009 IF staff, together with WISG staff and LGBT community members, were making bracelets in the office kitchen in preparation for an upcoming art exhibition. Someone rang the doorbell. A large group and men and women rushed into the office, announcing themselves to be police officers.
Ekaterine arrived at the office shortly after police had entered the premises. She was immediately pushed into a meeting room. A police officer refused her request for a search warrant. He then demanded that she hand him her mobile telephone, but she refused. The officer grabbed her hand, violently twisted her arm, and confiscated the phone.
From the beginning of the search, it was apparent the police did not know the specific nature of the NGO. When they began to understand that they had entered the premises of an LBGT organisation, they became extremely aggressive, uttered homophobic slurs, and openly mocked the individuals present. The police threatened to reveal the sexual orientation of the staff to the public, and to their families. They also threatened to hurt their family members. One officer said that he would burn the place down if he had matches.
When Tinatin arrived at the office, having been told by a friend that the police were already there, she found a chaotic scene. Furniture had been moved, the piano dismantled, and other objects were scattered over the floor. Her friends and colleagues were crying, terrified.
Without providing any explanation or informing the women of their rights, the police officers announced that some of the women, including Eka and Tinatin, had to be strip searched. The strip searches were conducted in the office toilet, on a cold and dirty floor, where the women were forced to undress whilst being verbally insulted by female police officers. The women felt that the searches were carried out for no other reason than to humiliate them.
Complaints were later lodged by Eka and Tinatin with Georgian prosecutors. They were largely ignored, despite their requests that authorities take into account the homophobic and transphobic nature of the police’s behaviour.
What did the Court find?
The Georgian Government were unable to demonstrate that a single investigative act was ever undertaken in relation to the allegations made by Ekaterine Aghdgomelashvili and Tinatin Japaridze.
In the opinion of the Court, the protracted nature of the investigation also “exposed the domestic authorities’ long-standing inability – which can also be read as unwillingness – to examine the role played by homophobic and/or transphobic motives in the alleged police abuse.”
“This judgment is very important for Georgia. The LGBT+ community still faces discriminatory and abusive treatment from law enforcement agencies. WISG has documented cases of the unlawful detention of trans women, the disclosure of sensitive personal information by police officers, and a lack of investigation of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes. I hope that this judgement will cause the Georgian Government to amend its laws. We will be involved in the implementation process before the Committee of Ministers.”
Keti Bakhtadze, WISG Strategic Litigation Lawyer
The Court was therefore able to find that the domestic investigation into the allegations of ill-treatment and discrimination by the police had been ineffective, in violation of the right to freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3 of the ECHR) under its procedural limb, in conjunction with the right to protection from discrimination (Art. 14).
“Clear, concordant and similarly unrebutted” witness statements confirmed Eka and Tinatin’s version of what happened during the police raid on the Inclusive Foundation. The Georgian Government chose not to contest these facts, but instead argued that the actions of the police officers did not meet the threshold for a Convention breach.
The Court concluded, in unequivocal terms, that the police officers had “wilfully humiliated and debased” Eka, Tinatin, and their colleagues, with their slurs and threats. It also agreed with the women’s suspicions that the sole purpose of the strip searches had been to humiliate and punish them for their association with the LGBT community. The Court therefore found an additional violation of Art. 3 in its substantive aspect, in conjunction with Art. 14.
The Court ordered Georgia to pay damages of €2000 each to Eka and Tinatin.