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Persecution of Jehovah Witnesses in Public Defender’s Report

10.04.2012

Tazo Kupreishvili, netgazeti

Kareli district prosecutor’s office launched investigation on criminal case under the article of religious persecution several months ago. Orthodox clergyman physically and verbally insulted Jehovah Witnesses.

Society learned about the incident after the Public Defender of Georgia presented his annual report on March 28.

According to the Ombudsman, in 2011 only one complaint about religious intolerance was filed to the Public Defender’s Office. According to this complaint, Orthodox clergyman Father R. physically and verbally assaulted members of the religious union Jehovah Witnesses – G.Kh. G.Sh, E.Kh, and T.Kh when they were conducting religious missionary activities in Ruisi village in Kareli district. The clergyman tried to seize religious literature from them.

The complaint stated that the incident occurred on December 16, 2011. The orthodox priest overtook E.Kh and T.Kh by car, insulted them and tried to seize personal properties from them. Criminal case was launched under Article 156 of the Criminal Code of Georgia (persecution on religious grounds) regarding the incident.

Spokesperson of the Public Defender of Georgia Nino Eremashvili said that Jehovah witnesses filed the complaint to the Ombudsman’s office with the request of confidentiality. So, Ombudsman used only initial letters of everybody’s names in the Report and Ombudsman’s office will not make their full names public.”

The press-center and secretariat of the Georgian Patriarchate stated they do not have information about clergyman’s participation in the incident. The nun at the Ruisi Monastery Mother Mavra and priest Father Davit of the Transfiguration Church in the same village could not recall similar incident either.

“Ruisi is huge village with about 12 000 inhabitants and I do not exclude possibility that similar incident really happened somewhere in the village,” Father Davit told Netgazeti.

Netgazeti tried to find out ongoing situation with regard to investigation with the Ministry of Justice; they inquired whether the Orthodox clergyman was charged for the incident. The online newspaper could not receive the requested information yet.

In September of 2001, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended Georgia to introduce amendments to the Criminal Code of Georgia which will forbid racist statements,  racist discrimination, and aggravating circumstances will apply to any crime committed on racial, religious, national or ethnic motives.

The parliament of Georgia introduced relevant amendments to the Criminal Code of Georgia late in March of 2012 which will apply aggravating circumstances to crimes committed on religious, ethnic, sexual grounds.

The Public Defender’s 2011 Report states that during the report period one complaint about persecution on religious grounds, two about discrimination and one about verbal assault were filed to their office.

Ombudsman Giorgi Tugushi reported that like in previous years administrative barriers were artificially created for Jehovah witnesses when they tried to obtain permission on legal construction. One more incident about insulting of Jehovah witnesses in Lagodekhi district was mentioned in the 2011 report too; namely doctor of the district hospital insulted the patient’s family member and called them “ugly Jehovah witnesses.”

The Public Defender of Georgia wrote that although the number of religious intolerance facts has reduced in comparison to previous years, those four facts from the report period demonstrate that religious minorities, and particularly Jehovah Witnesses are not perceived to be plenipotentiary members of the society and they often are subjected to direct or indirect discrimination.

In 2004 report of the Public Defender of Georgia, soon after the Rose Revolution, Ombudsman Sozar Subari wrote that dispersal, beating and insult of religious minority representatives was shameful stain for the Georgian society and in parallel to it, “trials on similar cases turned into shameful shows.” The ombudsman wrote that detention of the former clergyman Basil Mkalavlishvili, who actively persecuted Jehovah witnesses, had positive impact and number of assaults on Jehovah witnesses cut down.

 6 facts of persecution of Jehovah witnesses were reflected in 2010 report of the Public Defender of Georgia. It was about assault on religious minorities, interference in dissemination of their religious beliefs and persecution.

According to the Ombudsman, investigation on those incidents was launched under Article 156 of the Criminal Code of Georgia (persecution on religious grounds) and he evaluated the fact as progressive.

“For the last three years, any violent acts committed for the persecution on religious grounds or to hinder any religious ritual, were qualified as hooliganism and damage of others’ properties. Recommendations of the Public Defender and international organizations underlined the necessity of resolving this problem several times. Despite progressive trends, in 2010, like in previous years, investigations on those facts were mostly prolonged or dropped,” 2010 report reads.

In August of 2007 the European Court of Human Rights passed judgment on the lawsuit of 97 members of Gldani Congress of Jehovah Witnesses, which they had lodged several years before.

In October of 1999, Orthodox clergyman Basil Mkalavlishvili together with his parish members attacked and physically assaulted Jehovah witnesses during their religious service. After the religious community finished procedures at national courts, they appealed to the European Court. The latter concluded violation of several articles of the European Convention.

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