Peradze and Others v. Georgia (Application no. 5631/16)
A selection of key paragraphs can be found below the judgement.CASE OF PERADZE AND OTHERS v. GEORGIA
40. Being mindful of its supervisory role, the Court further subscribes to the domestic courts’ finding that, in the circumstances of the present case, the interference in question pursued the legitimate aim of protecting morals and the rights of others
45. Having regard to the reasons advanced by them in their decisions, the Court considers that the national courts unduly dissociated the vulgar nature of the impugned statement from its context and apparent goal, by focusing only on the form (compare Ziembiński v. Poland (no. 2), no. 1799/07, §§ 4445, 5 July 2016). They failed to acknowledge that Article 10 is applicable not only to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population (see Handyside, cited above, § 49). It is also of importance that the impugned offensive statement was not directed against any individual or institution in particular, which is why it cannot be considered to be an insult or wanton denigration of anyone in particular (contrast Skałka, cited above, §§ 34, 36 and 40). The lewd word was used by the applicants as a stylistic tool for expressing the very high degree of their disapproval with the construction project ongoing in the city, and the controversial form they chose to express their opinions on the matter of public interest could not thus be sufficient in itself for restricting speech in a public demonstration seeking to highlight a matter of considerable public interest. […]
46. Lastly, as regards the proportionality of the sanction, whilst the applicants did not advance this argument in support of their complaints, the Court cannot but note that the interference with their rights to freedom of expression and assembly consisted not only of the fines imposed on them, which were rather insignificant, but also of being coercively removed from the demonstration by the police and affected, as was shown in the video recordings (see paragraph 19 above), the conduct of the latter. The fact that the applicants were not removed immediately but after having spent some time displaying the impugned banners cannot be seen as decisive. In any event, the Court considers that the imposition of a sanction, however lenient, for an expression forming part of a legitimate public debate may have an undesirable chilling effect on freedom of expression (compare Bumbeș, cited above, § 101).
47. Having regard to all the above considerations, and in particular the domestic courts’ omission to assess a number of important aspects of the applicants’ protest – which lay at the core of the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly – and thus to adduce sufficient reasons to justify the necessity of the interference (see paragraphs 43 and 45 above), the Court concludes that there has been a violation of Article 11 of the Convention read in the light of Article 10.