GEORGIA: Rebel Orthodox Priest Attacks Pentecostal Choir.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 26 September 2001

On Sunday evening (23 September), defrocked Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili and his supporters attacked a choir practice of a Pentecostal church in the Gldani district of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the church's pastor Zaal Tkeshelashvili told Keston News Service. 'Basil and about 25 of his followers burst in wielding truncheons and started to beat our people,' he told Keston by telephone on 26 September. 'Twelve church members sustained serious injuries and medical reports have been prepared.' Pastor Tkeshelashvili told Keston he personally saw Mkalavishvili instructing his followers what to do and whom to beat.

Pastor Tkeshelashvili reported that some 25 choir members had gathered in a hall which the church rented in the local administration building when the attack took place. During the raid, which lasted nearly half an hour, Mkalavishvili and his followers shouted that the Pentecostals were Satanists and that he and his followers would drive them out of Georgia. 'He shouted to my face that he had warned me before.'

Tkeshelashvili said the beatings took place with sticks and fists and continued even after the mob had driven the choir members out into the street. 'I was beaten on the head and sustained damage to my eyes, and they beat my legs with sticks.' He said the beatings on the street had been witnessed by about a hundred local people from nearby blocks of flats. 'Basil wanted the local people to join in with the beating, but they were against him and didn't join in.' Tkeshelashvili said Mkalavishvili's followers had also wrecked his car.

Although a church member hurried to the nearest police station five minutes walk from the hall, the police were slow to come. 'Our church member returned to tell us they did not want to come. When they did arrive it was all over,' Tkeshelashvili declared. 'We have lodged our reports at the police and they must now investigate and hand the case to the procuracy.'

Georgia has been plagued by violence against religious minorities in the past few years, much of it led by Mkalavishvili. In August a children's camp in the village of Bakhmaru near the western city of Kutaisi was raided by police, armed local people and Orthodox clergy who threatened that if the camp was not broken up they would be destroyed. To avoid bloodshed, the organisers - the Pentecostal church in Kutaisi led by Pastor Teimuri Basiladze - decided to close the camp the following morning.

Although Protestants have been targeted (including Pentecostal and Baptist churches), the vast majority of violent assaults have been on Jehovah's Witness meetings. More than 80 have been attacked in recent years. (END)