23 February 2016
A draft law in Georgia, that would have imposed fines for insulting religious feelings, has been withdrawn, Forum 18 News Service notes. Deputy Sergo Ratiani of the largest opposition party, the United National Movement, thought the Law might have been proposed as "politicians are using the subject in the pre-election period", he told Forum 18. "Withdrawal was the result of resistance from civil society", Giorgi Gotsiridze of the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association told Forum 18. Journalists and artists – including artist Lia Ukleba threatened with violence for her painting attacking doing violence in the name of religion - also warned of the dangers to their freedom if the Law were passed. Baptist Bishop Rusudan Gotsiridze told Forum 18 that "the Law, which contains the unclear category of 'feelings', would serve as a tool against opponents in the hands of any powerful institution". "If the government decides that politically it needs a similar proposed Law, it might initiate it again in the future", Gotsiridze of the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association noted. A similar law backed by the powerful Georgian Orthodox Church was proposed in 2013.
5 November 2015
Non-Georgian Orthodox Church religious communities repeatedly face obstruction from local municipal councils and national state bodies such as the State Agency for Religious Issues to building new places of worship, Forum 18 News Service notes. Such problems affect communities such as Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics and Protestants. Typically, local Georgian Orthodox clergy and congregation members oppose proposals to build non-Georgian Orthodox places of worship. Then the local council finds excuses to obey Georgian Orthodox demands, even if the demands go against a court decision, often using spurious reasons to deny the building permit application. State authorities also often tell non-Georgian Orthodox communities to stop trying to build a place of worship on their own land and find some other land to build on. Georgian Orthodox hostility has led to extreme physical violence against those they dislike. National state authorities, such as the State Agency, have refused to answer Forum 18's questions on the issues.
4 July 2013
Since late May, mobs of non-Muslims have obstructed Muslims in the eastern Georgian village of Samtatskaro from praying freely, human rights defenders have told Forum 18 News Service. The mob threatened to burn down the imam's home and drive him from the village. Guliko Nadirashvili, head of the village, "mentioned publicly that if the majority decides that there must not be a mosque in the village, that this is Christian land and the whole village is against Muslims' prayer, we won't allow them to pray," a human rights defender told Forum 18. Nadirashvili claimed to Forum 18 that Muslims have "no problems praying". The local police chief refused to discuss the violence and threats with Forum 18 and the Interior Ministry in the capital Tbilisi was unable to say if anyone has been prosecuted over this and two similar mob attacks on Muslims in late 2012.
7 April 2009
The internationally unrecognised entity of Abkhazia has defended its expulsion in early April of three Georgian Orthodox monks and four nuns. Defence Minister Merab Kishmaria told Forum 18 News Service that "I took the decision to expel them. We'll kick out anyone who prevents the population of Abkhazia from living calmly." Asked how the monks and nuns in the remote Upper Kodori Gorge had disturbed the population, he responded: "They don't recognise our independent state or our Orthodox leader Fr Vissarion." The monastery has functioned in the Upper Kodori Gorge from the early 1990s, when the area was under the control of Georgian authorities. After fighting in August 2008, the area came under the control of the Abkhaz authorities. The monks and nuns were expelled after they resisted pressure from Fr Vissarion Aplia - who heads the canonically unrecognised Abkhaz Orthodox Church - to leave the Georgian Orthodox Church and join the group he controls. Deputy Foreign Minister Maxim Gvinjia defended the expulsions, insisting to Forum 18 that the Abkhaz Orthodox Church can prevent any religious community it does not like from functioning. The local Georgian Orthodox community has thus been denied access to any clergy just before the major Orthodox feast of Easter.
4 September 2008
Two monasteries of Georgian Orthodox monks and nuns in the Upper Kodori Gorge, captured by Abkhaz forces from Georgian forces in mid-August, are being pressured by the Abkhaz Orthodox Church to change their jurisdiction. "They must submit to the authority of our Church or leave Abkhazia," the head of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church, Fr Vissarion Aplia, who visited the monks and nuns within days of the fighting, told Forum 18 News Service. Asked who had given him the right to pressure members of a different religious jurisdiction to submit to his authority, Fr Aplia responded angrily: "It's not your business. It's our territory." Abkhaz Deputy Foreign Minister Maxim Gvinjia backs the right of the Abkhaz Church to enforce its will on the monks and nuns. "Of course we won't defend their rights, given the context of current developments," he told Forum 18. "Abkhazia is a Christian Orthodox country and the Abkhaz Orthodox Church is the main church." Since the expulsion of a Georgian Orthodox priest in April, the two monasteries are the only remaining Georgian Orthodox institutions left in Abkhazia.
23 April 2008
The internationally unrecognised entity of Abkhazia has expelled a Georgian Orthodox priest, Fr Pimen Kardava, after a "special decree" of the canonically unrecognised Abkhaz Orthodox Church. Independent sources who preferred not to be identified have told Forum 18 News Service that the expulsion was carried out by the entity's SSS security police. Fr Kardava's expulsion, just before the Orthodox celebration of Easter, leaves the entity's Georgian Orthodox believers without any priests. Yuri Ashuba, head of the SSS security police, declined to speak to Forum 18, but a subordinate stated that "You should speak to Fr Vissarion Aplia of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church." He admitted that Fr Aplia is not a state official but would not say why he was the appropriate person to answer questions. The Abkhaz diocesan administration's telephone was not answered. Also, Batal Kobakhia, chair of the entity's parliamentary Human Rights Committee, told Forum 18 that a Religion Law is being prepared.
10 November 2006
Patman Tabagari lost her sight in one eye after being kicked in the head by a mob, led by a Georgian Old Calendarist priest, that stormed a Jehovah's Witness meeting. Yet in the cases of this and more than 800 other attacks on religious minorities, Forum 18 News Service has found that their attackers have almost never faced justice. Only nine perpetrators have been tried and found guilty, and only two of them have received prison sentences. Georgian politicians, officials and the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate seem to try to ignore the problem. But Baptist Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili argues that "the crimes committed must be identified, condemned and only then can they be forgiven. If we forgive without identifying the crimes there is no clarity on what is being forgiven. We will only create an atmosphere where these crimes have a longer life." Manuchar Tsimintia, a lawyer for the Jehovah's Witnesses, agreed, telling Forum 18 that "if there is no punishment for all those people who conducted aggression against religious minorities, there could be a return to the old times."
25 October 2006
Georgian politicians and the Georgian Orthodox Church continue to deny the continued impossibility for religious minorities to openly build places of worship, Forum 18 News Service has found. "The difficulties we face are linked not to laws, but to a climate that has been artificially created and which forces us – in order not to stir up aggression – not to undertake construction," Catholic Bishop Giuseppe Pasotto told Forum 18. Amongst religious minorities facing this intolerance are Baptist churches, Pentecostals, the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the True Orthodox Church. Elene Tevdoradze, Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights and Civic Integration Committee, denied to Forum 18 that problems exist, as did the Deputy Chair of the Committee, Lali Papiashvili. She told Forum 18 "No, no, that's not true. It's obviously not true." Zurab Tskhovrebadze of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate also denied that religious minorities face obstruction in building.
19 October 2006
Assyrian Catholics in Georgia's capital Tbilisi fear more mob attacks, after a religious and cultural centre was attacked by a mob, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "The Orthodox Church and fundamentalists don't want a Catholic presence," Fr Benny Yadgar told Forum 18. "If we start to use the centre for worship these fanatics could attack our people with knives and wooden posts. Our people have a right to be protected." Fr Yadgar insists that the problems do not come from the authorities, but a current signature campaign could lead to pressure on the authorities. Police have refused to comment to Forum 18 on the attacks. The Georgian Orthodox Church and the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee – unlike human rights activists, religious minorities and the Human Rights Ombudsperson - have refused to defend the Assyrian Catholics. "I called on Patriarch Ilya to defend our church, but he says it is not his business," Fr Yadgar stated.
25 November 2005
Only two in-country non-Orthodox religious communities in Georgia – the Mormons and the Muslims - have received state registration, Forum 18 News Service has found. The Jehovah's Witnesses were only registered as a branch of their US headquarters. Registration – which grants rights to own property communally, run bank accounts, and have a legal personality – is only possible as a non-commercial organisation, not a religious community. In addition to their unhappiness with the exclusive privileges the state has given the Georgian Orthodox Church, some religious communities – among them the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Catholic Church and the Muslims – want registration to be possible as religious communities. Hostility towards any non-Georgian Orthodox Church community is widespread, preventing the building of places of worship and even, according to Ombudsperson Sozar Subari, leading to compulsory baptisms of children without their parents' permission.