KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 4 February 2002.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. GEORGIA: PATRIARCHATE CONDEMNS BIBLE BURNING
PRIEST. Metropolitan Daniil Datuashvili of the Georgian Orthodox
Patriarchate has condemned the Bible-burning in Tbilisi yesterday (3
February) by Father Basil Mkalavishvili, a priest of the Greek Old
Calendarist Church. "We are demanding that the government takes
immediate, serious measures to arrest all those who took part," he told
Keston News Service from Tbilisi on 4 February. The Georgian Baptist
Union told Keston that at about 1 pm on 3 February a group of about 150
people arrived at the Union's warehouse in three large buses, led by
Mkalavishvili, turned the warehouse upside-down and destroyed
thousands of books. The role of the private television company Rustavi 2,
which arrived filmed the attack, has been questioned.

II. GEORGIA: POSTPONED TRIAL OF VIOLENT PRIEST
IMMINENT. The much-delayed trial of the violent Old Calendarist priest
Basil Mkalavishvili and his main accomplice, Petre (Gia) Ivanidze, is
finally due to begin tomorrow (5 February) at 2 p.m. at the Didube-
Chugureti court in the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Jehovah's Witness sources
in Tbilisi told Keston News Service that the previous scheduled hearing,
due to have taken place on 25 January, had been postponed as the
prosecutor notified Judge Ioseb Chkheidze that he was unable to appear at
the time set by the court. It remains unclear whether the raid yesterday (3
February) on the Baptist Union's warehouse and burning of thousands of
Bibles (see separate KNS article) was a deliberate snub to the court or
simply part of Mkalavishvili' s continuing campaign against religious
minorities.

I. GEORGIA: PATRIARCHATE CONDEMNS BIBLE BURNING
PRIEST

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Metropolitan Daniil Datuashvili of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate
has condemned the Bible-burning in Tbilisi yesterday (3 February) by
Father Basil Mkalavishvili, a priest of the Greek Old Calendarist Church,
and called for the immediate arrest of all those involved. "The Georgian
Orthodox Patriarchate takes a very negative view of what happened
yesterday," he told Keston News Service from Tbilisi on 4 February. "The
Patriarchate will be issuing a press statement condemning these actions.
We are demanding that the government takes immediate, serious
measures to arrest all those who took part."

"The entire warehouse was turned upside-down," declared Bishop
Malkhaz Songulashvili, the head of the Baptist Union. He expressed his
alarm at the latest twist in what he called Mkalavishvili's "long-running
reign of terror" against religious minorities, which has seen about a
hundred violent attacks on Jehovah's Witness, Baptist and Pentecostal
services, meetings and property over the past few years. "This is the first
time that his group has burnt Bibles," he told Keston from Tbilisi on 4
February, "though in the past they have burnt Jehovah's Witnesses
newspapers and magazines."

The Georgian Baptist Union told Keston on 3 February that at about 1 pm
that day a group of about 150 people arrived at the Union's warehouse in
three large buses, led by Mkalavishvili. "They broke the locks with big
iron sticks, forced their way into the warehouse, took out thousands of
books, put them on a big pile outside the warehouse, and set fire to the
pile, adding petrol to help it get burning." Thousands of Bibles, New
Testaments and Bible stories, in Georgian, Armenian and other Caucasian
languages, were destroyed. "While burning these Bibles they were asked
by the watchman why they did that, and the answer was that they were
sectarian books," the Baptist Union reported. "When asked who they were
and why they did this, they told the watchman to ask Father Basil who
was leading them." Within ten minutes of the start of the attack, a
television crew arrived from the private Rustavi 2 channel and began
filming. A report of the incident was shown at least three times on the
channel over the next 24 hours.

"I had just celebrated the Eucharist at the Central Baptist Church in
Tbilisi when I was given a copy of a semi-burnt Bible. The book was still
warm," commented Songulashvili. "I felt incredible pain. It was a copy of
the Bible burnt in the name of Christ and religion." He told Keston that
about half the destroyed books belonged to the Baptist Church and half to
the Georgian Bible Society, a group that brings together many Christian
Churches in the country, including the Orthodox and the Baptists.

Songulashvili reported that the police had just arrived and begun to
investigate the attack.

Songulashvili told Keston he had just spoken to Patriarch Ilya of the
Orthodox Church, who had expressed his great concern and alarm. "He
encouraged us to sue Mkalavishvili, although he is afraid people might
think Mkalavishvili is connected with the Orthodox Church." The
Patriarchate defrocked Mkalavishvili in 1996 and he later joined the
jurisdiction of the Greek Old Calendarist Church, under Metropolitan
Cyprian of Oropos and Fili.

Songulashvili said he was suspicious about the role of Rustavi 2, a
suspicion he said Patriarch Ilya had shared. "Their TV cameras arrived
almost immediately. Normally when you try to arrange something with
the TV you have to tell them well in advance and even provide transport
for them." He questioned the links between Mkalavishvili and Rustavi 2,
especially as in their report the company had described him as being
editor of the Jehovah's Witnesses' magazine Watchtower. "They repeated
this disinformation three times, despite the fact that after the first showing
of the report our people phoned the TV company and pointed this out.
The producers promised to change this the next time, but the report went
out twice more without this disinformation being changed."

Contacted by Keston on 4 February, a translator at Rustavi 2 told Keston
that all the staff of the Sunday Courier programme, which had broadcast
the report, were out of the office. She declined to give mobile numbers
for the programme's editor Nika Tabatadze or the journalist Eka Saria
who had filed the report. However, she said that the station had not learnt
about the Bible-burning from Mkalavishvili. "Someone called in and told
us. I don't know who it was." She denied that the station was working
with Mkalavishvili.

Songulashvili reported that he would be meeting Catholic and Lutheran
leaders later in the day, as well as Gela Charkviani, a political advisor to
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. (END)


II. GEORGIA: POSTPONED TRIAL OF VIOLENT PRIEST
IMMINENT

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The much-delayed trial of the violent Old Calendarist priest Basil
Mkalavishvili and his main accomplice, Petre (Gia) Ivanidze, is finally
due to begin tomorrow (5 February) at 2 p.m. at the Didube-Chugureti
court in the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Jehovah's Witness sources in Tbilisi
told Keston News Service that the previous scheduled hearing, due to
have taken place on 25 January, had been postponed as the prosecutor
notified Judge Ioseb Chkheidze that he was unable to appear at the time
set by the court. It remains unclear whether the raid yesterday (3
February) on the Baptist Union's warehouse and burning of thousands of
Bibles (see separate KNS article) was a deliberate snub to the court or
simply part of Mkalavishvili' s continuing campaign against religious
minorities.

Keston tried to contact Mkalavishvili on 4 February, but both his home
and mobile telephones went unanswered.

At the courthouse on 25 January, Mkalavishvili had continued to rally his
followers in support of his campaign. "No sooner had the session ended
when Mkalavishvili and his band began verbally abusing and threatening
victims present as well as their lawyers," the Jehovah's Witnesses
reported. "Many of those present in the courthouse were identified by
victims as having participated in mob attacks. Later Mkalavishvili and his
adherents held a demonstration where religious minorities in Georgia
were denounced and lavish praise heaped upon the assaults and beatings
inflicted upon them."

The case against Mkalavishvili and Ivanidze covers numerous incidents
in their long-running campaign which has seen more than one hundred
violent attacks (see KNS 11 January 2002).

However, many remain sceptical that there is any willingness on the part
of the authorities to end the reign of terror. "They keep postponing the
trial and in the meantime Mkalavishvili continues to get involved with
violence," Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Baptist Union told
Keston from Tbilisi on 4 February.

Emil Adelkhanov of the Centre for Peace, Democracy and Development
in Tbilisi told Keston that two of Mkalavishvili's representatives had
visited the independent TV studio Stereo One on 25 January and tried to
force it to cancel broadcasts of a daily Protestant programme. When the
station refused and called the police, a crowd of Mkalavishvili's
supporters besieged the station. The commercial director and one of the
founders of the studio, Paata Mchedlishvili, moved the programme to a
less prominent slot as a result of the pressure. "The claims are now
stronger and it is the freedom of religious expression for all minority
groups that is now threatened," Adelkhanov declared. (END)

Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.