KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 7 February 2002.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

GEORGIA: INTIMIDATION SABOTAGES TRIAL OF VIOLENT
PRIEST. The criminal trial of the violent priest Basil Mkalavishvili and
his main accomplice Petre (Gia) Ivanidze failed to begin at Tbilisi's
Didube-Chugureti district court for the second time on 5 February as a
large crowd of Mkalavishvili's supporters packed the courtroom and
intimidated those present. "There was chaos in court," one lawyer told
Keston News Service. "Our security was not guaranteed. I have never
seen anything like it in my five years as a lawyer." However, an aide to
the judge hearing the case denied to Keston that security measures had
been inadequate. Pressure on the Georgian authorities to take action
against religious violence is mounting in the wake of Mkalavishvili's raid
on a Baptist warehouse at Vashlisdjvari near Tbilisi on 3 February, when
thousands of Bibles and religious books were burned.

GEORGIA: INTIMIDATION SABOTAGES TRIAL OF VIOLENT
PRIEST

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The criminal trial of the violent priest Basil Mkalavishvili and his main
accomplice Petre (Gia) Ivanidze failed to begin at Tbilisi's Didube-
Chugureti district court for the second time on 5 February as a large
crowd of Mkalavishvili's supporters packed the courtroom and
intimidated those present. "There was chaos in court," the Jehovah's
Witnesses' lawyer Tamaz Svanishvili told Keston News Service from
Tbilisi on 7 February. "Our security was not guaranteed. I have never
seen anything like it in my five years as a lawyer." However, an aide to
the judge hearing the case denied to Keston that security measures had
been inadequate. Zaza Bokua, a clerk to Judge Ioseb Chkheidze, also
denied to Keston that there had been an atmosphere of intimidation.
"Order was preserved in the courtroom," he claimed.

Bokua, who told Keston the case would resume for the third time in the
afternoon of 14 February, stressed that court officials had called the
police to make sure they were present, and said the sole reason the judge
had not proceeded with the trial was the absence of the victims. "All
proper security measures were taken," he insisted. "The victims did not
turn up. What else could we do?" Jehovah's Witness representatives told
Keston from Tbilisi that they stayed away from the hearing as they had
not received the security guarantees they had requested.

Svanishvili, the newly-engaged lawyer for the Jehovah's Witnesses who is
not himself a Jehovah's Witness, does not believe judge Chkheidze did
enough. "He should have done more to protect the security of
participants. Five policemen were present but left the courtroom before
the hearing started. We don't know why. Maybe they were instructed to
do so."

In a statement issued after the trial, the Jehovah's Witnesses reported that
about three hundred of Mkalavishvili's supporters, mostly men, armed
with metal and wooden crosses, tried to invade the courtroom before the
hearing began. "Many entered and occupied areas reserved for attorneys
as they rang their religious bell and waved large anti-Jehovah's Witness
banners. As the victims' attorneys made their way through the mob to
Judge Ioseb Chkheidze's chambers, they overheard security police being
ordered away from the scene. The courtroom was left with no security."

Attorneys explained to Chkheidze that under these circumstances it was
impossible to proceed with the trial as it was too dangerous for the
victims or their attorneys to attend, the Jehovah's Witnesses added.
"Furthermore, a fair trial could not be held under such circumstances. The
judge agreed and postponed the trial."

In the wake of the failed hearing, Mkalavishvili was reported to have
declared that if the case was postponed a third time, he would ignore the
trial. Keston was unable to reach him on 7 February either at home or on
his mobile.

Jemal Kubaidze, an investigator at the city procurator who prepared the
case against Mkalavishvili, told Keston from Tbilisi on 7 February that
the case covers five violent incidents conducted by Mkalavishvili and
Ivanidze, three against the Jehovah's Witnesses, one against the Baptists
and one against the newspaper Rezonans. Asked whether he believed the
pair were guilty, he responded: "If I didn't think they were guilty I
wouldn't have completed the investigation and sent the case on to the
court." Asked why Mkalavishvili and his accomplices have not been
sentenced earlier for the violence dating back several years, he declared:
"I'm not the procurator. That is a question for them. I was given the case
to investigate in April 2001, I completed it and sent it to court in
September, in just four months."

At the first attempt to hear the case against Mkalavishvili and Ivanidze on
25 January, the prosecutor failed to appear and the case had to be
postponed (see KNS 4 February 2002).

Mkalavishvili, who was defrocked as a priest by the Georgian Orthodox
Patriarchate in 1996, is now a priest of the Greek Old Calendarist Church
under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Cyprian. Keston has been unable to
contact Metropolitan Cyprian to ask what measures he has taken to
prevent violence and other criminal activity by his priest or whether he
intends to defrock him.

As well as the five incidents covered by the current case, Petre
Balakhashvili, an investigator at the city procuracy is investigating further
violent incidents. "I am looking at ten or eleven other incidents," he told
Keston from Tbilisi on 7 February. "In addition, two district procuracies
in Tbilisi are looking at one further incident each." Asked why only 17 or
18 of Mkalavishvili's attacks are being investigated given that there have
been more than 100 in the past few years, Balakhashvili responded:
"There aren't a hundred cases. Where are they? If there are facts, then a
criminal case is inaugurated." He admitted that there might be other
incidents on which he has not yet received evidence.

Asked when his current investigation would be completed, he declared: "I
can 't say. It takes time to investigate the evidence and interview
witnesses."

Meanwhile, pressure on the Georgian authorities is mounting in the wake
of Mkalavishvili's raid on a Baptist warehouse at Vashlisdjvari near
Tbilisi and burning of thousands of Bibles and religious books on 3
February (see KNS 4 February 2002). Metropolitan Daniil Datuashvili
told Keston on 7 February that the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate had
issued a statement condemning the religious violence on 4 February. "It
was printed in the newspapers and a representative of the Patriarchate
also appeared on television."

Georgi Tskomelidze, secretary to the Catholic bishop Giuseppe Pasotto,
told Keston from Tbilisi on 6 February that Bishop Pasotto had signed the
joint statement by religious leaders condemning the violence. "The
Catholics, Baptists, Lutheran and Armenians have already signed," he
reported, "and the Muslims and Jews also wish to sign." He said the
Orthodox had declined to sign the joint statement, preferring to make
their views known independently.

The raid on the Baptists was also discussed on 6 February at the regular
monthly meeting of European Union (EU) ambassadors at the British
Embassy in Tbilisi. "We are very concerned about the religious violence,"
Torben Holtze, head of the EU delegation in Georgia, told Keston from
Tbilisi on 7 February, "though this latest incident is nothing new." He
said that the issue is likely to be raised "at the appropriate level in the
European Union and in discussions with the Georgian authorities".
President Eduard Shevardnadze is due to visit Brussels in mid-March.
(END)

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