KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 23 March 2001

I. GEORGIA: WILL ACTION AGAINST REBEL PRIEST HALT
VIOLENCE? A criminal case has been launched against Basil
Mkalavishvili, the excommunicated Georgian Orthodox priest who has been
waging a campaign of terror against religious minorities, Keston News
Service learned from the general prosecutor�s office in the capital Tbilisi on
23 March. A single investigation will encompass eight separate charges of
violence. Georgia has been under increasing pressure to bring the violence to
an end, but Mkalavishvili and his supporters have hitherto attacked with
impunity.

II. UZBEKISTAN: CATHOLIC CONCERT FIRST VICTIM OF NEW
DECREE? A concert of Christian music scheduled for October in the
Catholic church of the Sacred Heart in the Uzbek capital Tashkent seems to
be the first victim of a new decree, apparently issued in February, which
bans state educational institutions from having any contact with religious
organisations, whether registered or not. Catholic officials told Keston News
Service in Tashkent that musicians and singers from the city's conservatory
took part in such a concert in mid-February, but will not be able to do so
again without special permission.

I. GEORGIA: WILL ACTION AGAINST REBEL PRIEST HALT
VIOLENCE?

by Lorna Howard and Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A consolidated criminal case has been launched against Basil Mkalavishvili,
the excommunicated Georgian Orthodox priest who has been waging a
campaign of terror against religious minorities, Dali Sadatierashvili, head of
the general prosecutor�s office information service, told Keston News
Service from the Georgian capital Tbilisi by telephone on 23 March.
Mkalavishvili and his supporters have attacked religious meetings and
property of a range of religious minorities, including Jehovah's Witnesses,
Pentecostals and Baptists in recent years, hitherto with impunity. An
informed source has stated that without pressure on the Georgian
government from the USA and the Council of Europe, the attacks will not be
halted.

The new general prosecutor of Georgia, Gia Meparishvili, whose
appointment was confirmed by parliament on 13 February, issued an
instruction on 16 March for eight criminal cases on charges of violence
against Mkalavishvili and his followers to be brought into one and
investigated by the Tbilisi city procuracy, Sadatierashvili said. Meparishvili
is reportedly more sympathetic to the plight of those who have suffered at
Mkalavishvili�s hands than was his predecessor. Bishop Malkhaz
Songulashvili of the Baptist Church (which was raided by armed intruders
on 15 March - see KNS 16 March 2001) told Keston by telephone from
Tbilisi on 23 March that Meparishvili told him he would do the utmost to
stop the violence. `It is important that crime is dealt with fairly and without
partiality,' the prosecutor told the bishop.

Elena Tevdoradze, chair of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee, told
Keston from Tbilisi by telephone on 23 March that she was pleased with the
news. She had appealed in parliament on 18 March for Mkalavishvili to be
brought to justice, she said, and the following day the Tbilisi prosecutor
phoned her to say that proceedings had just begun. Asked if there was hope
of a result she said her committee would be watching the process carefully.

Asked if it was true that the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Minister of
State Security supported Mkalavishvili, Tevdoradze replied: `Such an
opinion has built up because neither of those ministries have taken any kind
of legal action against him.'

Bishop Songulashvili told Keston that he had had two meetings this week at
the Georgian Patriarchate. The Patriarchate is very cautious and does not
want to condemn the violence outright. Its official view seems to be reflected
in an interview given last year by Patriarch Ilia II and reported in the Azaval
Dasavali newspaper on 18 September 2000: `The Jehovah's Witnesses and
Baptists should not be allowed into the country because their main goal is to
destroy Georgia.' Despite this, the Orthodox Church signed an agreement
with the Baptists on 5 February, agreeing to work together in the nation-
building process and affirming the possibility of cooperation in `defence of
human rights and peace in the region'. The agreement condemns `religious
fanaticism, hatred, violence and proselytism' and is signed by Archimandrite
Zenoni on behalf of the Orthodox Church and Bishop Songulashvili on
behalf of the Baptist Church. Bishop Songulashvili told Keston that the
Georgian Patriarchate had faced opposition because of the agreement.

Leaders of minority communities are keeping up the pressure. In an
interview due for broadcast on public television tomorrow, 24 March, Pastor
Zaal Tkeshelashvili of the Madli (Grace) Pentecostal church in the Tbilisi
suburb of Gldani - which has itself suffered at the hands of Mkalavishvili
and his supporters - urges the rights of religious minorities to be protected.
He told Keston by telephone on 23 March that he mentions in the
programme the case of Pentecostal schoolboy Vasil Basishvili, forced out of
his school in Gldani in early March by supporters of Mkalavishvili. `He acts
as a branch of the police � the police protect him,' Pastor Tkeshelashvili
added. `We insist that our rights are equal to the rights of the Orthodox.
They have no priority on grounds of religion.'

The Georgian government has been under diplomatic pressure to tackle the
growing violence against religious minorities. Diplomatic sources have told
Keston that at the beginning of February the European Union issued a
demarche to the Georgian Foreign Ministry urging action to halt the
violence.

Speaking during a visit to Tbilisi that concluded on 1 March, the OSCE
chairman-in-office, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, expressed
concern about the attacks on religious minorities, highlighting in particular
the Jehovah's Witnesses, and urged greater religious tolerance. He urged the
ombudsman to do more to protect the rights of religious minorities.

On 2 May Georgia's record will be considered in Geneva by the United
Nations Committee against Torture, which monitors compliance with the
Convention against Torture, to which Georgia is a party. The convention
includes in its definition of torture `severe pain or suffering, whether
physical or mental' intentionally inflicted, whether by a public official or
`with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting
in an official capacity'. Under the terms of the convention, the Georgian
government has the duty to prevent the violence against religious minorities,
to end the impunity enjoyed by those guilty of these attacks and to institute
`prompt and impartial investigation' of all allegations of torture. (END)

II. UZBEKISTAN: CATHOLIC CONCERT FIRST VICTIM OF NEW
DECREE?

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A concert of Christian music scheduled for October in the Catholic church of
the Sacred Heart in the Uzbek capital Tashkent seems to be the first victim
of a new decree, apparently issued in February, that bans state educational
institutions from having any contact with religious organisations, whether
registered or not. Catholic officials told Keston News Service in Tashkent
that when the church asked musicians and singers from the city's
conservatory to take part again as they had in a concert in mid-February,
conservatory teachers told the church regretfully that in the light of the new
decree they were unable to do so. The Vatican's nunciature in Tashkent has
now asked the Foreign Ministry for their help in facilitating the
conservatory's participation, but is still waiting for a response. `We are
optimistic they will give permission,' a Catholic priest told Keston.

The Sacred Heart church, whose construction was begun before the
communists came to power and which has been rebuilt since it was returned
to the community by the Uzbek government in the early 1990s, was
consecrated in October last year. Since 1994 the church has hosted twenty
concerts of Christian music with the participation of a number of choirs and
orchestras.

`At the beginning of March we asked the conservatory to be involved once
more, but they told us that a new decree had been issued banning educational
institutes from cooperating with religious organisations,' a Catholic official
told Keston. `We asked the Committee for Religious Affairs for further
information about the decree but they told us they had never heard of it.' The
Catholics have still been unable to obtain the text of the decree, apparently
Decree No. 206 issued in February.

At the Education Ministry in Tashkent an aide to the minister told Keston by
telephone on 23 March that his ministry had not issued such a decree.
Keston contacted the Higher Education Ministry the same day, where an
official promised to look for the decree and confirm whether his ministry
had issued it. Keston is awaiting the response.

The government has imposed a strictly secular model on the country, trying
to isolate religious communities from as many aspects of public life as
possible. Religious groups - especially non-Muslim communities - have
almost no access to the state-run media, are barred from forming political
parties and social movements, are in practice barred from selling religious
publications openly (except for a few Muslim publications) and schools and
colleges are strictly secular. Only clergy of registered communities are
allowed to appear in public in `cult garments' and women wearing Islamic
hijabs (headscarves) and men with Islamic-looking beards have been
expelled from colleges.

The Catholics were surprised something as innocent as students'
participation in a concert could be affected by such a decree. `The festival of
Christian music is planned with the aim of furthering the spiritual growth of
parishioners and all who want to take part in it,' Father Krzysztof Kukulka,
the senior priest in the country, told the Foreign Ministry in his 13 March
letter on behalf of the nunciature. As of 23 March, he was still awaiting a
reply from the ministry. (END)

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