Children Vandalized Evangelist-Baptist Church
Gela Mtivlishvili, Kakheti
In comparison with 2008-2009, incidents related to the restriction of freedom and intolerance on religious grounds has statistically decreased in 2010. However, several incidents have still been reported. On January 28, the Evangelist-Baptist Church was vandalized in the village of Akhalsopeli in Kvareli district. Church leader Marika Tskhadadze said that the police found the accused in the crime – they were pupils of the village public school.
“They broke the window and got into the building through it. The incident happened during day-time hours. We informed the police about the incident. They investigated and found that the church was vandalized by children. Police officers summoned the children to the police station together with their parents. They apologized but did not say why they had done it. We are not going to continue their prosecution. We would not have informed the police about the vandalism, had it not been the second incident,” said Marika Tskhadadze.
She added that the Evangelist-Baptist Church was first vandalized on November 19, 2010 but the parish did not appeal to the police. In both cases, church properties, toys for the church’s Sunday school as well as stationary items were stolen; other equipment was damaged.
In 2002 the Evangelist-Baptist Church was opened in the office of the charity organization Beteli in Akhalsopeli village. Before that, since 1993 the Church had its own building but unidentified people set fire to it in 2002.
There are only 15 people in the parish of the Evangelist-Baptist Church. They attend religious service on Saturday. Young volunteers of the Church look after lonely old people in the village; they visit them at home. In summer, a day-camp works in the church with the financial support of the International Association of Camps. Tskhadadze said they give lessons on the Bible to the participants of the Camp; they also hold discussions about the Bible. The participants learn handiworks, singing, take part in sport competitions and other events. The children from Akhalsopeli and neighboring villages join the summer camps.
Marika Tskhadadze said that local people were more aggressive with them in the past. Recently, people changed their attitude with regard to religious minorities. “They are not aggressive and do not hinder our activities at all aside from the recent vandalism.”
“They might have become afraid of being punished for similar activities because several people were punished for similar crimes. Maybe, they became more tolerant because of it. However, I do not think the hatred and intolerance has been reduced in society. Simply, elderly people are afraid of punishment and they encourage children to oppose us because nobody will punish them,” said expert Beka Mindiashvili during his interview with Radio “Liberty.”
In 2005, a similar incident happened in the village of Velistsikhe in Gurjaani district. Pupils of the village public school destroyed the Baptist Church which was under construction. The teachers organized this fact then.
Giorgi Tughushi, the Public Defender of Georgia: “Investigation of most cases about the restricted religious rights is either dropped by law enforcement bodies or too prolonged. The statistical data demonstrate that after the former clergyman Basil Mkalavlishvili, who was dismissed from the Patriarchate, was arrested in March of 2004, the Public Defender’s Office did not receive any complaints on religious problems till the first half of 2005. In the second half of 2005, 12 complaints were filed. In the first half of 2006, 12 complaints were submitted again and in the second half their number was only 8. 11 complaints were filed in the first half of 2007 and 13 in the second half. In 2008, 2 complaints were sent in the first half and 8 in the second one. The number of complaints demonstrates that religious freedom was somehow ensured in 2005 - 2008. If we compare the data of the first part of 2008-2009 to the situation in 2005-2007, we will see that law enforcement institutions had less reaction on the vandal acts on religious ground that could be considered a reason for the increased number of crimes committed on religious grounds.”
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