KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 14 March 2001

GEORGIA: DRUNKEN MOB ATTACKS BIBLE SOCIETY WORKERS.
A lorry transporting books and blankets to the Georgian Bible Society in
Tbilisi was ambushed on 10 March by a drunken mob led by defrocked
Orthodox priest Vasily Mkalavishvili, Keston News Service has learned.
They beat up the driver and three Bible Society workers and destroyed many
of the books. The attack has been condemned by a Georgian official as
comparable to the activities of the Ku Klux Klan or the Inquisition.

GEORGIA: DRUNKEN MOB ATTACKS BIBLE SOCIETY WORKERS

by Lorna Howard, Keston News Service

A lorry transporting books and blankets to the Georgian Bible Society in the
capital Tbilisi was ambushed in the evening of Saturday 10 March in the
outskirts of the city by a mob of about 60 people, led by defrocked Orthodox
priest Vasily Mkalavishvili, Keston News Service has learned. The driver
Tenghiz Zaalishvili and three Bible Society workers, Michael Saralishvili,
Aleksander Ordzhonokidze and Lado Godsiridze, who had gone to collect
the books from the port of Poti, were beaten up, and many of the books
destroyed. Local police from the Mtskheta region eventually stopped the
violence and took the lorry away; it remains in their custody.

Ramaz Paresashvili, assistant head of the Georgian Bible Society told
Keston by telephone from Tbilisi on 13 March that the books were 1870
copies of a Georgian translation of �Opening up the Bible� by Mary
Batchelor. The blankets were a gift from the French Bible Society, intended
for distribution to refugees from Abkhazia and Chechnya. The goods had
been in Poti for some weeks while all the documents needed to release them
from Customs were obtained. Asked how Mkalavishvili knew when the
books would be released from Customs, Paresashvili said he thought that the
rebel priest must have �his own people� inside Customs.

Paresashvili quoted Mkalavishvili as saying that �heretical books must be
destroyed � Enemies such as the United States and Europe want to destroy
Georgia by means of heretical books, by attacking the soul of the nation, not
with guns, as Russia does.�

Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Georgian Parliament Elena
Tevdorarze, asked by Keston on 14 March for her reaction to the attack, said
that her committee and the parliament were �outraged� by the vandalism and
the attack on the men. �It is comparable to the actions of the Inquisition, or
the Ku Klux Klan. The government and the security authorities must take
serious measures against the activities of Vasily Mkalavishvili; unfortunately
the police are often passive bystanders, and neglect the rights of our
citizens.�

Keston has learned from other Georgian sources who do not wish to be
named that there are well-founded fears that Mkalavishvili�s actions, if
unchecked, may result in death.

Chair of Georgian State Security Rusudan Beridze told Keston by telephone
on 14 March that she was fully in touch with the situation, as the Bible
Society had informed her of the attack and held a press conference about it
on 13 March, information from which had been published in the Georgian
media. She had had a meeting with Mkalavishvili and his followers on 13
March to hear their side of the story. Asked what measures could be taken to
stop lawbreaking of this kind, she said that there was an article in the
Georgian criminal code which outlaws �hooliganism�, and a case against
Mkalavishvili could be brought to the Procuracy.

This attack is the latest in the campaign of terror waged by Vasily
Mkalavishvili and his supporters against religious minorities, including
Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists and Pentecostals (see KNS 9 Feb 2001).
Human rights activists, religious minority leaders and Georgia's ombudsman
have condemned the impunity he enjoys and have called for urgent action by
the authorities. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.