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Round Table about Alleged Violation of the Freedom of Religion


Maka Shamugia

On December 15, Human Rights Center organized a round table in the frame of the project “Promoting Freedom of Religion in Georgia.” The project is implemented with financial support of the Canadian Embassy. 

In the frame of the project Human Rights Center studied alleged facts of religious intolerance and violation of freedom of religion in Georgia in the recent period. The main topic of the round table was facts of human rights violations against religious minorities. Representatives of the religious minorities, nongovernmental organizations, Public Defender’s Office and Ministry of Internal Affairs participated in the round table. Executive director of Human Rights Center Aleko Tskitishvili and co-director Nino Tsagareishvili moderated the meeting.

Representatives of the religious minorities raised main problems during the discussion. As the discussion revealed, Muslim community has faced most problems in Georgia for the recent period. 

Chairman of the Georgian Muslims Union Tariel Nakaidze said the state conducts wrong policy with regard to religious minorities. He thinks the problems of religious minorities are either resolved only through negotiations or are more aggravated.

“I think the commission created to address the problem about Mokhe mosque is ineffective. It will further escalate the situation in Georgia that will again discredit our country’s reputation on the international level. There are some problems in Samtatskaro village. Local muslims go to the neighboring village for Friday prayers. The incident, that occurred in Samtatskaro, was much more serious than those in Nigvziani and Tsintskaro. About 200 persons attacked the family of mola at night; we have video-recording of this incident. Population got scared and the leader even fled from the village for some time. Investigation was launched but without any results so far. Local population was so scared that muslims refuse even to protect their rights. An alarming fact occurred in Kobuleti when a pig head was nailed to the door [of the muslim boarding school]. In this case, not only religious freedom was restricted but also right to the education. It is difficult for the people to feel safe. The state shall necessarily take measures to address those problems. The government should not allow similar illegal facts to happen in the country,” Tariel Nakaidze said.

During the round table, deputy mufti of Samtskhe-Javakheti region Jambul Abuladze spoke about the two-years-long problems in Tchela and Mokhe villages. He said the law enforcement officers act as a party in this conflict, who instead being punished, are promoted on the positions that demonstrates poor HR policy in the MIA.

“I think there is personnel problem in the MIA that is particularly acute in the region. Representatives of the MIA dragged and beat parents of the children in front of the Mokhe village school. Of course, this fact will have negative impact on the psychic of the children. How should we look into their faces and explain why it happened. The main problem is low public awareness. And it is important to work in this direction and explain democratic principles to the society. People believe you are not Georgian if you are not orthodox and they perceive you as enemy,” Jambul Abuladze said.

Samtskhe –Javakheti region mufti Mamuka Vashakmadze also spoke about violations by the officers of MIA.

“People resettled from Adjara have lived in Samtskhe-Javakheti region since 1960; we are about 2500 families. Discrimination of muslims has become problem lately. It is a pity that our mothers, who grew us up with Georgian lullaby and preserved the Georgian language for us, who are 75 now, are scolded by the MIA officers, more precisely by the head of the regional department. They became particularly aggressive towards us since last year and we urge the MIA to pay attention to similar facts; we also apply to the legislative body to seriously work in this direction,” Mamuka Vashakmadze said.
Representatives of the protestant church spoke about the problems of their members and raised some issues during the round table.

“Protestant religions also have problems. For example in summer we wanted to organize International Festival of Hope in the sport palace but we were refused; we will publish a report about it soon. Issue of indoctrination should also be mentioned that is permanent problem at schools. Religious servants enter the lessons during school hours, occupy teacher’s place and lead lessons. Besides that, children are taken from school to watch only orthodox films. Teachers conduct propaganda of the orthodox religion that is inadmissible,” said Lela Khonelidze, representative of the Faith Gospel Church. 

“Culture of intolerance towards people and inadmissibility of different is the biggest problem. I would single out three main issues: education system that does not meet any standards. I mean attitude of teachers. The conducted researches show that more than 80% of the interviewed people believe the religious minorities are threat for the society. Second it is media, which is very discriminative. The third is the kind will of the government, where we have serious problems too. It is noteworthy that Agency on Religions Minorities, which was established to resolve the problems, is rather control mechanism than problem-addressing one. They rudely interfere in the lives of religious communities, appoint and sack leaders. It is not relevant for the democratic state,” leader of the Evangelist-Baptist Church Rusudan Gotsiridze said.

Head of the legal aid service at Human Rights Center Tamar Avaliani studied alleged facts of human rights violations of the representatives of the religious minorities in the frame of the project Promoting Freedom of Religion in Georgia. She said the police always refrain from exposing facts of religious intolerance in the cases they investigate.

“I, as a lawyer and project monitor, am interested in the responsibility of the state to prevent and eradicate the conflict. We should mention the alleged violation facts in Tchela and Mokhe villages. At some point, the police was obliged to start disciplinary process into the alleged facts of the abuse of power by police officers. In the case of Jehovah Witnesses the police acted as a party in the conflict. 

The problem is in the legislation too because investigation is launched under article 125 of the Criminal Code based on the complaint of the representative of the religious minority. With it the police try to avoid religious motive in the crime that is much graver offence than physical assault,” the lawyer of Human Rights Center Tamar Avaliani said.

Representative of the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center Keti Sartania also spoke about the abuse of power by law enforcement officers.

“We were in Mokhe and the main problem that I detected there was abuse of power by law enforcement officers. Physical assault, verbal insulting and no investigation – I think these are very important problems.

The problems of culture monuments and property of different confessions are also very important; also problems in economic development and education. Very often religious rights are breached and discrimination facts occur in public schools. Also we observe problem of religious nationalism; Georgian muslims are often called Tatars, turks that is connected with the problem of education and state position,” Keti Sartania said.

Head of anti-discrimination department at the Public Defender’s Office Maka Gioshvili said the Law on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination granted more authority to the Public Defender that allows him to find out, investigate and study concrete cases and to prepare recommendations about them. 

Deputy head of the General Inspection at the MIA Varlam Khatridze said the MIA should adequately respond to the presumed facts of human rights violations against religious minorities; particularly when MIA officers act illegally.

“The Ministry of Interior actively studies the recommendations of the Public Defender and nongovernmental organizations. Our initiative is to hold similar meetings and to discuss concrete facts of violations against religious minorities. We believe essential discussion of these problems will be more successful,” Varlam Khatridze said.

Representatives of the religious minorities welcomed the imitative of the MIA official and hope it will be implemented in reality and the state will become more tolerant towards religious minorities. 
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