Issue 8, Article 20, 23 August 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

time since the early 1990s, a Georgian Baptist church has been attacked by the
local police. The head of human rights in Georgia agreed that such an action
was �a violation of the law� and has promised to look into the affair as has the
local governor of the Tianeti region.

Wednesday 23 August 2000

by Erika Cuneo, Keston News Service

For the first time since the early 1990s, a Georgian Baptist church has been
attacked by the local police, according to Georgian Baptist Bishop MALKHAZ
SONGULASHVILI and local human rights activist EMIL ADELKHANOV.
They agreed in separate interviews with Keston on 22 August that previous
protests and disturbances have been carried out by lay Orthodox; however this
time it was the chief of the Tianeti district police, Mr GIGAURI, and three
other policemen who broke up the service, took away the chairs and a Bible,
threw aside the pulpit and damaged a large cross.

The attack took place at approximately 2pm on Sunday 20 August. In the
presence of parishioners, Gigauri told Pastor KALATOZISHVILI that if he
wanted to pray, he had better go to an Orthodox church. According to
Adelkhanov, once at the police station, Mr Gigauri told the pastor that if he did
not stop worshipping in that prayer house, he would be arrested: first for 15
days, then for 30 days and then for six months. Once Gigauri saw the Dutch
visa in his passport, Kalatozishvili was accused of being a spy from a Western
nation in order to undermine an Orthodox country. As Keston has been unable
to reach either the pastor or the chief of police by telephone, we have relied on
the corroborated testimony of Bishop Songulashvili and Mr Adelkhanov who
both spoke to Kalatozishvili.

�They will continue to worship there because it is the only place they have�
Bishop Songulashvili told Keston on 22 August. �Pastor Kalatozishvili came to
speak to me and I told him I would give him a mobile in case he has trouble.�
The parish meets in a centrally located house which has been partitioned into a
room for worship, another for Sunday school and the last room for a lodger.
This lodger has been threatened more than once according to Songulashvili.
�She has been told that if the Baptists come again and worship there, they will
drive her out, even though they have no legal basis for doing so.�

Bishop Songulashvili told Keston that he was notified of the disturbance at
4pm on Sunday and arrived in the Tianeti district by 5.30pm. Tianeti is a town
of approximately 4000 people situated 100 km (60 miles) from Tblisi in the
mountains. He tried to find the police chief at the police station but only met
the deputy who claimed to know nothing of the incident. His next visit was to
the private home of the governor of the region, Mr HAMLET KISTAURI.
According to Songulashvili, Kistauri promised to find out why the attack
occurred. The following day the pastor and bishop submitted a formal
complaint to the Georgian Ombudsman, Mrs NANA DEVDARIANI.
According to Songulashvili, she promised to do her utmost to solve the
problem and said that she was �determined to send a letter to the Ministry of
Internal Affairs and find a solution�. By 22 August, Songulashivili had also
spoken to the head of the Department for Human Rights in Georgia, Mrs
ELENA THEVDORADZE. She confirmed to Keston by telephone on 22
August that she had promised to visit Tianeti on Saturday 26 August. �What
they are doing is a violation of the law: it is forbidden.�

Bishop Songulashvili said that not only had most of the government officials
been supportive, but that a press conference held 21 August was well attended
and included journalists for the government owned television station; articles in
the press on 22 August printed accurate information of the attack.

In the past year, Keston has reported on attacks by Orthodox laymen on
Pentecostal and Jehovah�s Witnesses meetings (see KNS 20 Oct 1999).
Furthermore a Pentecostal church open air evangelistic rally in the Tblisi
suburb of Gldani was broken up by local police using brutal methods in May
1999 (see KNS 11 June 1999). Public condemnation of the attack on Jehovah�s
Witnesses by Georgian President EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE and protests
made by human rights organisations and various religious groups seemed to
galvanise support for a fair trial in that case. Keston will continue to follow the
developments to monitor if the intervention promised by Kistauri and
Thevdoradze produce as successful results. (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.