Parliamentarians from the New Rights opposition faction, as well as several lawmakers from the parliamentary majority walked out the session on December 23 to protest against the portion of the Public Defender’s report which deals with the religious freedom in the country.
Public Defender Sozar Subari presented to the Parliament on Friday report on human rights record of first half of 2005.
In his report Sozar Subari noted that the Concordat signed between the Orthodox Church and the Georgian State in 2002, violates principle of equality recognized both by the Georgian constitution and the international conventions, because the Concordat gives important privileges to the Orthodox Church compared with other religious groups in Georgia.
“Pages from 81 to 94 [portion of report which deals with religious freedom] is a shame and we can not remain in the chamber to listen this humiliation,” MP Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights opposition party said at the session.
MP Nodar Grigalashvili from the ruling National Movement party also condemned this part of report and walked out the parliamentary session.
Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze showed a moderate stance and called on the parliamentarians not to be radical while assessing Public Defender Sozar Subari.
“Georgia was always proud of its tolerance… Rejection and condemnation of a person for a dissent opinion is unacceptable. I also might not agree with the Public Defender’s some opinions but it does not mean that we should not listen to him,” Nino Burjanadze, the Parliamentary Chairperson, said.
Influencial parliamentarian from the National Movement Giga Bokeria slammed parliamentarians both the opposition and ruling party who condemned Sozar Subari for his stance of religious freedom.
MP Bokeria condemned, as he put it, “fundemendalist-style statements voiced by some MPs” and said that religious freedom “is not an issue for speculation and an issue for political blackmailing.”
“In this regard Mr. Subari has my full political support,” MP Bokeria said.
The report by Sozar Subari also criticizes an agreement between the Georgian Ministry of Education and Georgian Orthodox Church, which gives the latter its say while selecting teachers who will teach religious-related courses, including history in the schools. According to the report this agreement violates principle of separation Church and State.
Sozar Subari was also criticized by the parliamentarians for other aspects of the report. Some lawmakers, including those from parliamentary majoritarian complained that the Public Defender is “too soft” while assessing the authorities’ performance in respect of human rights.
“I am member of the majority and I naturally support authorities, but you are not obliged to support this government. I think that you support authorities and this is your weakness. You have no oppositional stance which is so necessary for the Public Defender,” MP Beso Jugeli from the ruling National Movement party, said at the session.
Criticism was also voiced in regard of the Public Defender’s failure “to appropriately react” on human rights abuse cases. “You are listing all the violations, which is very good, but it is not enough to tackle these problems, we do not see effectiveness of your performance,” MP Ivliane Khaindrava of the opposition Republican Party said.
MP Davit Zurabishvili, chairman of the opposition Democratic Front criticized the Public Defender for “refraining to speak out against” pressure on judiciary, media and business.
“In your previous report you said that judiciary was under the prosecutor’s office control. This report says nothing about it. Do you think that the situation has been improved in this regard? Very often Mr. Subari acts as a defender of the law enforcement agencies,” MP Davit Zurabishvili said.
But influencial parliamentarian from the National Movement Giga Bokeria denounced critisizm by the opposition as groundless. “I want to thank the Public Defender for his performance. The opposition wants him to become carrier of their political platform and an opposition activisit, but they [opposition] do not understand that the Public Defender should be neither representative of the opposition, nor the authorities,” MP Bokeria said.