KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 29 March 2001

GEORGIA: VIOLENCE CONTINUES DESPITE CASE AGAINST
PERPETRATORS. Despite the case being prepared by the Tbilisi procuracy
against defrocked Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili (see KNS 23 March
2001), violence against religious minorities continues. Keston News Service
has learned from Jehovah�s Witness sources in Georgia of three attacks since
the General Prosecutor ordered the case to be brought on 16 March. A
meeting has been broken up, property damaged and stolen, and literature
burned.

GEORGIA: VIOLENCE CONTINUES DESPITE CASE AGAINST
PERPETRATORS

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Despite the case being prepared by the Tbilisi procuracy against defrocked
Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili (see KNS 23 March 2001), violence
against religious minorities continues. Keston News Service has learned
from Jehovah�s Witness sources in Georgia of three attacks since the
General Prosecutor ordered the case to be brought on 16 March.

On 27 March a mob of 30 men led by one identified by the Jehovah�s
Witnesses as an Orthodox priest, Father Teimuraz, broke up a meeting of
Jehovah's Witnesses in the town of Rustavi south of the capital Tbilisi,
ransacking the private home where they were gathered. The men destroyed
equipment, threw personal property out of the windows, and stole 300 lari
(145 US$ 100 GBP) and the deed to the home. Police stood and watched as
the thieves made off with personal property. �This mob broke into my home
and demolished it in broad daylight,� said the owner, Jimsher Gogelashvili.
�The police obviously approve and are authorised to ignore such violence�.

On 28 March around 20 men gathered in an open-air public market and set
fire to Jehovah�s Witness literature. Five of the men were identified as the
ones who had broken up the meeting the previous day. Police declined to
intervene in the book-burning.

The same sources said that on 16 March Mkalavishvili and a mob of his
followers seized several thousand Jehovah�s Witness brochures from a
printing works located in the Samto Chemical building in Tbilisi and burned
them publicly outside the building. Rustavi 2 TV reported that police stood
by and watched, making no attempt to intervene. Only after the literature
was completely burned did police alert the fire department. In a live
television broadcast that same evening, the sources report, Mkalavishvili
renewed his threats of violence against Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses and
other religious minorities.

To date, the government has ignored all internal and international pleas to
put a stop to the violence, including a petition signed by over 130,000
Georgian citizens. �It is evident that certain Orthodox priests in the country
view the inaction on the part of the government as a signal that attacks on
religious minorities are acceptable,� stated Inga Geliashvili, lawyer for the
Jehovah's Witnesses. �Both the government and the [Orthodox] Church say
they condemn such violence, but neither take any action whatsoever to stop
it�.

Gia Sulkhanishvili, counsellor at the Georgian Embassy in London, told
Keston by telephone on 28 March that the religious violence is 'a sad story'
and is 'very embarrassing for the Georgian government - and it has now
begun to realise it'. He reported that on 27 March the justice minister
Mikheil Saakashvili had condemned the violence in televised remarks. He
added that his embassy had received a lot of letters about why Mkalavishvili
and his supporters were not arrested and the violence halted, and the
embassy had enquired of the government in Tbilisi, though it was waiting for
a response. 'We have written to ask why one radical extremist can take the
law into his own hands.' (END)

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