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Freedom of Religion Is More Restricted in Georgia

Gela Mtivlishvili

According to the official information, from January 1 till the end of June of 2009, 21 facts of restricted freedom of religion and intolerance occurred in Georgia. Among them 20 cases were related with Jehovah Witnesses. Public Defender of Georgia Giorgi Tughushi thinks that in comparison to previous years the situation in freedom of religion has worsened. According to the public defender, increased number of restricted freedom of religion and intolerance is caused by inadequate reaction of the law enforcement bodies to similar incidents.

Jehovah Witnesses mostly preach in the street but they also visit people at home. This right is guaranteed under Constitution of Georgia but because of similar missionary practice, in most cases the Jehovah Witnesses become victims of sharp reaction.

According to the information provided to the Public Defender’s Office by the Jehovah Witnesses, on January 21, 2009 in Tsalenjikha (Western Georgia), local authority set up two crosses in front of the building (which is under construction) of Jehovah Witnesses and started protest rallies. Teachers and pupils of public schools participated in the demonstration. According to the Jehovah Witnesses the schooling process was seized at school by that time. The participants of the rally threw stones at the building under-construction.

Similar incident happened in Borjomi on February 2, 2009.

Strangers insulted and physically assaulted Jehovah Witness M. Iakoshvili in Sagarejo (Eastern Georgia) too on January 29, 2009. People threw stones and bottles at the religious house of the Jehovah Witnesses, so called Royal Palace. The building was damaged as a result of the incident and the attack occurred twice on that day.

On February 19, 2009 strangers smashed windows and damaged equipment in the office located in Guramishvili Avenue N 12 in Tbilisi. Jehovah Witnesses held religious services in the office.

The same office was attacked on June 6 again; harassers set window on fire and insulted the foreigners who lived in the office for some time. The incident was recorded by video-camera installed on the building and identity of the harassers can be estimated. However, police has not arrested anyone for the incident.

On April 17, 2009, unidentified people set construction materials on fire in Senaki (Western Georgia) on the place where Royal Palace was supposed to be constructed. On April 20, on the same place unidentified people smashed front and rear windows of the cars of Jehovah Witnesses.

On May 13, in Sagarejo, in the yard of the Royal Palace unidentified people physically assaulted Jehovah Witness M. Iakoshvili.

Unidentified people threw handmade explosive into the religious house of Jehovah Witnesses in Chubinashvili Street N 26 in Tbilisi. The explosion damaged the walls and furniture in the office.

According to the Public Defender’s Office, in two more cases in Sagarejo, Nachkhebia and Iakoshvili, the Jehovah Witnesses, were beaten because of their faith.

“In seven cases we find persecution on religious ground, physical assault and insulting of Jehovah Witnesses when they preached in the streets or in the houses. In one occasion, policemen, who witnessed physical assault of Jehovah Witnesses, did not do anything to stop and arrest harassers. Just the opposite, in Sagarejo district, as Jehovah Witnesses claim, the policemen encouraged harassers to attack them. Patrol policemen were called during three incidents but they did not act operatively and could not arrest harassers,” said the Ombudsman.

Giorgi Tughushi said their office is particularly concerned about inefficient activities of the police department and prosecutor’s office in Kaspi district where they do not prevent illegal activities of the clergyman at Akhlakalaki Orthodox Church Irakli Khomeriki.

“Clergyman Irakli Khomeriki has been persecuting Jehovah Witnesses since 2007 in Kaspi district. In 2008 Gori district prosecutor’s office dropped investigation launched under Article 155, part I of the Criminal Code of Georgia (interference in religious service) because they could not estimate the crime was committed under that article. Kaspi district police department sent warning letter to the clergyman and requested not to insult or assault Jehovah Witnesses in future.  After that, Irakli Khomeriki persecuted the Jehovah witnesses twice and insulted and assaulted them again,” said Tughushi,

According to the statistics, during the first six months of 2009 only two harassers were charged for the violation of religious rights. In the first case, the court fined the offender with 100 GEL in Borjomi and warned them in written form. In the second occasion, the court imposed three-day-administrative imprisonment on the offender; in the village of Shukhuti in Lanchkhuti district the offender was just warned by the law enforcement officers.

Giorgi Tughushi: “Law enforcement bodies either stop or prolong the investigation of the cases launched on the violation of religious rights. Statistics demonstrate that after the clergyman Basil Mkalavlishvili, sacked from Orthodox Church in March of 2004, nobody had applied to the Public Defender for help before the first part of 2005. In the second part of 2005, 12 complaints were filed to the public defender’s office; in the first part of 2006, 12 complaints were filed again; in the second part of 2006 the number of complaints was 8; in the first part of 2007 eleven complaints were filed and 13 in the second part of 2007. In the first part of 2008 the Public Defender’s office received 2 complaints and 8 in the second part. The number of the filed complaints shows that it was impossible to maintain stable situation in the field freedom of religion. If we compare the data of the first part of 2008-2009 with the data of the first part of 2005-2007, we will see that policemen react on less facts of violation of religious rights. It can be a reason of increased number of crimes on religious ground.”

According to the Supreme Court of Georgia, in 2006-2008 17 people were convicted for the persecution and discrimination on religious ground and for the interference in the religious services. Among them 9 persons served their terms in custodies.

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