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Public Defender- State Failed to Protect Freedom of Religion of Muslim Community in Samtatskaro Village

April 22, 2014
Nino Devidze, Kakheti

In his 2013 Parliamentary Report, Public Defender of Georgia paid attention to the developments against Muslim community in Samtatskaro village, Dedoplistskaro district. The report states that local village governor Gulo Nadirashvili and Dedoplistskaro district governor Irakli Shiolashvili also participated in the persecution of Muslim people together with local population. Public Defender assessed Shiolashvili’s public statement as discriminative, when he said majority had to make decision about starting mosque in the village. 

Public Defender’s representatives monitored ongoing developments in Samtatskaro village in May-June of 2013. Interviews with local Muslim inhabitants showed that families from Adjara, victims of ecological disaster, were first resettled in the village in 1978; among them were both Muslim and Orthodox families.

Muslim people conducted religious services in the village during years without any problems. However, they never had mosque before 2013. In 2013, United Georgian Muslim Department purchased a house in Samtatskaro village based on the request of local Muslim people, where they could conduct religious rituals. This fact caused discontent of orthodox population of Samtatskaro and neighboring villages who prohibited Muslim people to conduct Friday prayers; several people even physically and verbally abused leader of the local Muslim community.

Clarifications of Muslim inhabitants of Samtatskaro village and representatives of Georgian Muslim Department to the Public Defender’s representatives show that on May 14, 2013 the village governor Gulo Nadirashvili opposed opening Muslim’s chapel in the village. They threw Koran, table and carpet from the Mosque, physically and verbally assaulted Muslim people. 

Local Orthodox population did not allow Muslim neighbors to conduct Friday prayers on May 31 and on June 7, 2013 too. On May 31, Orthodox residents of Samtatskaro and neighboring villages blocked the road and did not allow Kvemo Kartli Mufti and his companions to enter the village. Mufti and his companions told the Ombudsman’s representatives that they were physically and verbally abused.

Leader of Muslim people in Samtatskaro village clarified that on June 7, 2013, to strangers visited him at home. They presented themselves as officers of Georgian MIA and blamed him in escalation religious tension in the village and accepting money in exchange of opening mosque there. Khoja said he was threatened with imprisonment. An hour later he was taken to the mosque, where he felt bad when getting off the car; he could no longer enter the mosque.

Khoja said on June 6 a person, who introduced himself as Georgian Public Defender’s representative in Telavi region, met him together with the village governor. The person claimed he knew that Khoja had accepted money in exchange of opening mosque in the village. He told it was useless to continue Friday prayer in the village. If somebody was arrested because of religious controversy in the village, Khoja would not be allowed to live in the village.

On June 14, representatives of the Georgian Muslim Department and Muslims from other regions also participated in the Friday prayer. Khoja could not participate in the prayer because of health problems and recent oppression facts on him. In order to avoid controversy, local Muslim inhabitants did not attend the prayer either.

On June 21, 2013 Public Defender’s Office was informed about oppression facts against Khoja’s family. According to their information, Deputy Mufti of Georgia attended the prayer on June 21. Khoja and his sons also attended the prayer. Khoja said no accidents occurred during the prayers but afterwards, when guests left the village, about hundred inhabitants from Samtatskaro and neighboring villages gathered near his house. They aggressively protested the Friday prayer. They verbally and physically assaulted Khoja. Village governor was among harassers too.

Public Defender addressed to the Minister of Interior to start investigation into aforementioned facts. According to the information provided by the Georgian MIA, Kakheti regional main department launched investigation into illegal interference in religious service in Samtatskaro village (crime punishable under Article 155 Part I of the Criminal Code of Georgia) and into intimidation fact against E.Kh’s family by Samtatskaro village population (crime punishable under Article 151 of the CCG). Public Defender’s Office [PDO] requested information about ongoing investigation into the criminal case. However, in the report period MIA did not provide the PDO with the requested information. Public Defender recommended Dedoplistskaro district governor to impose disciplinary sanction on Samtatskaro village governor. In reply to his recommendation, Dedoplistskaro district administration notified Public Defender that village governor was warned for disciplinary violation.

Case materials, clarifications from Muslim community members prove that patrol police officers failed to protect religious freedom for Muslim community in Samtatskaro village. Patrol police officers took relevant measures to avoid physical controversy between two parties but could not completely protect freedom of religion of Muslim people and Muslims could not conduct religious rituals in the village.

According to Public Defender’s assessment, representatives of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs failed to adequately respond to aforementioned facts. Namely, law enforcement officers did not execute their positive duties – to protect religious group of Muslim people from religious hatred and violence against them.