Court communicates case against Georgia concerning LGBT people at a football match

The Fifth Section of the European Court of Human Rights has communicated the case of Nino Bolkvadze and Others v Georgia, which concerns complaints by nine applicants about their treatment at a football match in Tbilisi where they were prevented from wearing rainbow‑coloured armbands and exhibiting rainbow flags.

The facts

The case concerns the alleged breach of the nine applicants’ freedom of expression on account of their being prevented from wearing rainbow‑coloured armbands and exhibiting rainbow flags, banners and posters during a football match in Tbilisi. 

On 9 September 2018, the applicants went to a stadium to see a football match between Georgia and Latvia. In order to show their support for one of the Georgian players, Guram Kashia, who had won the Equal Game award by UEFA for promoting diversity, inclusion and equality in European football, the applicants wore rainbow-coloured armbands. 

This mirrored Mr Kashia's own action when, whilst playing for Dutch top-division team SBV Vitesse, he joined other team captains at domestic matches in the Netherlands in wearing a rainbow armband, signifying support for the LGBT community (an action that was greeted with an extremely negative and hostile response by some in Georgia, and resulted in calls for him to renounce playing for the national team).

The applicants also had with them rainbow-coloured flags and various posters, stickers, and banners depicting their support for the idea of equality. 

The applicants allege that the police did not allow them to enter the stadium with their armbands. Most of their posters, flags, stickers and banners with LGBT symbols were confiscated at the entrance. 

One applicant managed to get into the stadium with a rainbow-coloured flag and, towards the end of the match, he and another applicant hung the flag out. It was immediately taken away by representatives of the Ministry of the Interior. 

Domestic proceedings 

The applicants complained to the Ministry of the Interior and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office. The latter forwarded the applicants’ complaint to the general inspection department of the Ministry of the Interior. 

In reply to their complaint the applicants were informed that on 9 September 2018 the police had been instructed, for the purposes of protecting public order, to prevent people from entering the stadium with items depicting various symbols or attributes, including those related to the LGBT community. 

On 7 March 2019 the applicants filed another complaint with the Minister of the Interior and the Chief Prosecutor of Georgia alleging that they had been discriminated against on account of their sexual orientation and gender identity and that the police had abused their authority. They requested the initiation of criminal proceedings and the identification of those responsible. 

It appears that their complaint has been left unanswered.

Complaints to the Court

The nine applicants complain under Article 10 of the Convention, taken separately and in conjunction with Article 14 of the Convention, about the violation of their freedom of expression on account of their sexual orientation and gender identification.

Questions to the Parties

The Court has asked the Parties the following questions:
  1. In view of the fact that the applicants have not pursued a civil remedy against the police, can they be said to have exhausted domestic remedies, within the meaning of Article 35 § 1 of the Convention, in respect of the complaints now made before the Court?
  2. Are the complaints of the applicants under Articles 10 and 14 of the Convention premature?
  3. In view of the measures undertaken with respect to the applicants on 9 September 2018, has there been an interference with their right to freedom of expression within the meaning of Article 10 of the Convention? If so, was the interference prescribed by law? What legitimate aim did the contested measures pursue, were they proportionate to that legitimate aim and necessary in a democratic society?
  4. Have the applicants suffered discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity, contrary to Article 14 of the Convention read in conjunction with Article 10 of the Convention?

The Court will receive answers from the Parties, and any Third-Party Intervenors, before proceeding to decide on the admissibility of the applications. If the Court declares the applications admissible, it will then proceed to rule on the merits of the complaints.