A Pride festival was canceled in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Saturday by organizers who say authorities failed to prevent violent disruptions from Russian-affiliated far-right groups.
According to Georgian public broadcaster First Channel, police clashed with anti-LGBTQ protesters in Lisi Wonderland, an events venue outside Tbilisi where the closed event was scheduled to take place.
Festival organizers Tbilisi Pride said in a tweet that they were “compelled” to cancel the festival and “evacuate” the festival territory.
“The Ministry of Interior of Georgia once again neglected to protect us from violent far-right groups and allowed the mobs to prevent us from exercising our freedom of expression and assembly even in private settings,” Tbilisi Pride said.
Videos posted by Georgian activist channels showed clashes between police officers and anti-LGBTQ protesters in the festival area in Lisi Wonderland. Anti-Pride protesters were also pictured setting Pride flags on fire.
Tbilisi Pride has accused the Georgian government of orchestrating and coordinating with Russian-affiliated, far-right group Alt Info, who they claim disrupted the event.
Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze told reporters that the event had been hard to police because of its location, Reuters reported.
“The protesters managed to find… ways to enter the area of the event, but we were able to evacuate the Pride participants and organizers,” Darakhvelidze said, according to the news agency. “Nobody was harmed during the incident and police are now taking measures to stabilize the situation.”
In a statement on Friday, the Georgian Interior Ministry said it was taking “appropriate measures” to ensure the “safe format” of Saturday’s event and “to protect the freedom of expression and assembly of each person.”
The speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, stressed the government’s condemnation of any violence on Saturday, according to First Channel.
Papuashvili said police coped with the situation and prevented festival participants from being injured, according to First Channel.
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili said statements from Papuashvili and other government officials had no value, calling on the government to “stop using hate speech and inciting confrontation.”
Zourabichvili, who is independent of the country’s ruling Georgian Dream party, said the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression guaranteed by the Georgian constitution were violated on Saturday.
The UN condemned the “violence and attacks on Tbilisi Pride” in a tweet, calling on Georgian authorities to “denounce this disturbing incident” and protect the rights to peaceful assembly and expression of LGBTQI+ people in Georgia.
The US Embassy in Tbilisi also condemned the actions of an “uncontrolled crowd threatening violence,” tweeting that they had denied Georgian citizens their right to peacefully assemble. The embassy called on the Georgian authorities “to hold accountable all those who broke the law and make clear that violence is unacceptable.”
Britain’s ambassador to Georgia, Mark Clayton, said he was “shocked” and “saddened” to see the festival canceled “despite the planning and preventative measures.”
In a tweet, Clayton called on the Georgian authorities to “ensure that all who broke the law & aggressively disrupted a peaceful gathering will be brought to justice.”
The German ambassador to Georgia, Peter Fischer, called it a “sad day,” remarking in a tweet that Georgian law had been “violated.”