Friday 20 August

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A Pentecostal pastor has failed to prosecute the policemen who violently broke up an outdoor evangelistic meeting in the Gldani district of the Georgian capital. Pastor ZAAL TKESHELASHVILI, pastor of the Madli (Grace) Evangelical Church in Tbilisi, brought the civil case against several of the policemen from the Gldani district police. The first hearing was scheduled for 11 August at the Gldani district court, but the policemen failed to appear in court and the case was postponed. The judge heard the case on 17 August and found in favour of the police, a source in Tbilisi told Keston News Service. Pastor Tkeshelashvili's lawyers, LIA MUKHASHAVRIA and LEVAN CHAVCHAVADZE, are appealing to the regional court.

The Gldani police broke up the meeting, held in the courtyard of a block of flats, on 29 May (see KNS 11 June 1999). A church member recorded some of the events on video a copy of which Keston Institute has obtained. It shows the policemen arriving and haranguing the church members, though not any actual violence. Pastor Tkeshelashvili and his wife NINO, the assistant pastor, were among church members beaten by the police as the meeting was being broken up and later the same evening. They sought sanctuary with friends in the wake of police threats, returning to their home only several days after the incidents.

Although Georgia has made great efforts to reform the judiciary and has required judges to undergo a screening procedure, the judge who heard the case was, a source in Tbilisi told Keston News Service, `one of the ones left over from the old system'. The judge refused to allow the video recording to be shown to the court, apparently citing the lack of electricity (power cuts remain common in Tbilisi, even during the summer months).

Adding to the pressure during the 17 August hearing was the presence of Father BASIL, a Gldani-based priest who has been defrocked by the Georgian Patriarchate for his radicalism. He and his flock carried a poster `Orthodoxy or Death!' and threatened to launch a mass protest if the policemen were found guilty. Father Basil had arrived at the evangelistic meeting on 29 May and tried to dissuade spectators from listening to the Pentecostals.

The Madli church belongs to the Christians of the Evangelical Faith Church in Georgia, a Pentecostal denomination which has registration as a `social organisation'. As Georgia has no law on religion, this is the form of registration that church headquarters need in order to gain juridical status.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have reported a series of other cases involving brutality against suspects and suspects' relatives by officers of the Gldani police over the past few years. Little has come of complaints in these cases, but the Madli church seems determined to seek redress by legal means, despite the latest setback. (END)