GEORGIA: 'Mkalavishvili Should Be Arrested At Once'.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 11 January 2002

"Basil Mkalavishvili should be arrested immediately for violating the law and citizens' rights," Elena Tevdoradze, chair of the Georgian parliament's human rights committee told Keston News Service from Tbilisi on 11 January, three weeks after Mkalavishvili - a defrocked Orthodox priest - led a violent raid on a Protestant service (see separate KNS article). "It is very strange that he has not been arrested already." Despite a three-year reign of terror against religious minorities - including Baptists, Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses - Mkalavishvili appears to remain above the law, although a long-running criminal case for his nearly 100 violent attacks may be about to reach the courts. Tengiz Makharadze, Tbilisi's chief prosecutor, told Keston on 11 January that the case against Mkalavishvili and one of his closest associates, Petri Ivanidze, was completed last October and has been sent to the court of Tbilisi's Didube-Chugureti district. No date has yet been named for a trial.

Makharadze denied that the investigation had been slow. "There were many incidents to investigate and we had to question many witnesses," he told Keston. "We also had to get information from prosecutors in Gori and other towns. We haven't been slow." Asked why Mkalavishvili had not already been arrested in the light of the serious allegations against him for numerous incidents dating back to 1999, Makharadze declared that this would be a matter for the courts. He stressed that under a court ruling from last year, Mkalavishvili is already under court-sanctioned supervision. He declined to say whether he believed his participation in recent incidents - among them the 28 September attack on the Jehovah's Witnesses and the 23 December attack on Word of Life church - violated the provisions of the supervision order.

Manuchar Tsimintia, a Tbilisi-based lawyer who represents the Jehovah's Witnesses - who have suffered more than 80 violent attacks, most of them led by Mkalavishvili - told Keston on 11 January that the judge at the Didube-Chugureti district court likely to be assigned the case is Iosif Chkheidze.

Makharadze identified the articles of the criminal code in the case against Mkalavishvili and Ivanidze as Articles 125, 150, 155, 160 and 226. He added that a further criminal case was being prepared against other members of Mkalavishvili's group of supporters.

Tevdoradze reported that she had passed all the complaints from religious minorities sent to her office onto the prosecutor. She said she had repeatedly complained about police and procuracy inaction - and about the failure of President Eduard Shevardnadze to take action. "I have been fighting about this for three years," she declared. She complained in particular that the police had repeatedly failed to prevent Mkalavishvili from leaving his home, where he is required to remain under the court supervision order. However, she said the minority faiths themselves could have done more. "They should have responded more strongly. They are too afraid of causing conflict with the Patriarchate."

Many remain sceptical that Mkalavishvili will face justice, despite the promised court hearings. "The authorities have never condemned religious intolerance clearly, without equivocation," Emil Adelkhanov of the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Development and Democracy complained to Keston. "After several excesses, none of [the culprits] has ever been punished; they will go on like that as long as they are sure of their impunity." (END)