PM Ivanishvili addresses police forces outside the Interior Ministry during an event marking the Police Day on May 19. Photo: PM’s office
PM Bidzina Ivanishvili praised police for, as he put it, “well-coordinated” actions during violence in downtown Tbilisi on May 17, when a small group of activists, planning to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, was confronted by Orthodox clergy-led large crowds.
Speaking before police officers, who paraded outside the Interior Ministry’s building on Sunday to mark the Police Day, Ivanishvili said that at the time when “agitated majority” moved in to confront “minority”, need to protect safety of individuals became a top priority, prevailing over protection of their right to freedom of expression and the police had to evacuate them.
“You protect safety of each and every citizen… and very often you do it at the expense of safety of your own life,” Ivanishvili told policemen. “A good example of that were developments in Tbilisi’s central square a day before yesterday, when you managed in dignity to provide safe passage for minorities so that they could protect their rights. You stood between majority and minority and when you saw that the need of protection of persons’ safety, instead of freedom of expression, became number one priority and when, unfortunately, it was not possible to contain agitated majority, you put entire burden on yourselves at the expense of your own safety and managed to escort the minority out of danger.”
He said that about twenty policemen sustained injuries, some serious ones.
“It was an action, well-coordinated by your leadership; it was coordinated in a dignified manner by your minister [Irakli Garibashvili], who was performing his duties in a very correct way,” PM told the policemen.
Some civil society groups have criticized the police of a failure to prevent the violence and concentrating more on safe evacuation of anti-homophobia rally participants rather than focusing on preventing angry mob from approaching the rally.
Defending police actions, senior figures from the Georgian Dream coalition say that the police response was “adequate” in that particular situation and argue that use of riot police and resorting to force against thousands of anti-gay protesters would have backfired with more complications, violence and unrests in Tbilisi’s streets.
The Interior Ministry said that investigation was launched into the May 17 violence; no one has yet been charged and no arrests have yet been made.
Chief prosecutor, Archil Kbilashvili, said on May 19 that results of the investigation would become known to the public in the nearest future.
Civil society and human rights activists are calling on the authorities to bring perpetrators before the justice, including those Orthodox priests, who might have been involved in the violence either directly or indirectly by inflammatory rhetoric. Orthodox priests were in forefront of the crowd, which broke through police cordons and moved in direction to the venue where few dozen of activists wanted to hold anti-homophobia rally on Freedom Square.
A high ranking Orthodox cleric in the Georgian Patriarchate, Bishop Jakob, said in a Sunday sermon in Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta that members of the clergy “are human beings” and some of them might committed, as he put it, “misconduct” in tense and difficult situation during the May 17 developments.
Bishop Jakob said that the Orthodox Church “will take measures” against such priests “as it is envisaged by clerical laws.”
“I think that it won’t be difficult for them to face secular justice either,” he added.
“Let the authorities investigate all the cases; no one is against of that,” the Bishop said and also added that allegations against the priests being involved in committing serious crimes were overblown.
He said presence of the clergy, in “joint efforts” with the police, helped to prevent “huge tragedy” as clerics were trying to allay angry crowd.
Bishop Jakob was present on the scene during the May 17 developments and during a sermon later on the same day he praised anti-gay protesters for demonstrating the Georgian “identity”. During his May 19 sermon he said that anti-homophobia rally organizers were to be blamed for the violence, because their decision to hold a rally despite of a demonstration by large number of their opponents provoked people to confront them.