TDI: Constitutional Amendments Restrict Freedom of Religion

State Constitutional Commission of Georgia, acting through the constitutional reform in the country, prepared the draft amendments to the Constitution of Georgia. The amendments are also related to the matters of the freedom of belief, religion and conscience. TDI believes that the proposed amendments endanger protection of religious freedom and raises a high risk of illegitimate interference.

According to the acting text of the Constitution, restriction of freedom of speech, opinion, conscience, and belief is allowed only if their expression interferes with the rights of others.

Current version of the draft amendments already adopted through second hearing by the Parliament of Georgia modifies this provision as follows: “restricting these rights is allowed for ensuring the State or public security necessary for the democratic society, prevention of crime, protection of health, carrying out of justice or protection of rights of others”.

Proposed text deteriorates the standards of protection of human rights since it extends the grounds justifying interference. In addition, some part of such grounds is vague and does not meet the standard of foreseeability. The State is given possibility to illegally interfere in the area protected by those freedoms by invoking the mentioned grounds, hence procedural protection of rights may become more difficult.

For example, one of the grounds for restriction is “State security”. This ground may be abused by the authorities by going beyond the framework for protection of human rights to restrict the activities of some religious groups with illegitimate and vague goal. In addition, it should be noted that the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms only allows restriction of right to fair trial, right to respect private and family life, freedom of assembly and association and freedom of movement based on the State security ground, while this is not considered as justified ground for restricting freedom of religion.

It should be noted that the Venice Commission evaluated the proposed amendments and called upon the State to make the scope of limiting rights clearer. According to the Commission, the existing version raised a risk for narrow interpretation of freedom of belief and conscience, while restriction ground – violation of the rights of others - could be interpreted too broadly.

Despite the fact that the State should have approximated the scope of restricting freedom of religion with the European Convention as per the recommendation of the Venice Commission, the Parliament of Georgia neglected provisions of the international treaty and determined additional grounds to the existing criteria for restricting of the freedoms.

TDI believes that the existing scope of restricting freedom of religion and belief (“for protection of rights of others”) establishes higher standard of protection compared to the proposed version. Therefore, it raises the risk of arbitrary interference into freedom of religion.

TDI calls upon the State to ensure maintenance of adequate balance between the two interests and to limit the possibility for restricting the freedom of belief, conscience and confession to the cases when such restriction is necessary for protecting rights of others as guaranteed by the Constitution and international instruments. The State shell avoid the risk of disproportional restriction of freedom of religion with the newly established legitimate goals.