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Criminal Case Initiated Against Assailants of the Religious Minorities

Excommunicated Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili continues violent attacks against religious minorities. Mkalavishvili already faces the criminal charges for past assaults. The court has recently prohibited Mkalavishvili to leave the capital city.

On January 24 Mkalavishvili and his followers assailed representatives of Christian churches, gathered in the Evangelic-Baptist Church for ecumenical prayers. Several people were injured during the incident and the prayers were cancelled as a result.

Malkhaz Songhulashvili, head of the Georgian Evangelic-Baptist Church, told Civil Georgia that during the assault Mkalavishvili’s group intimidated the ministers and believers physically and morally, broke into the church building, destroying property and burning the literature.

“This is an unprecedented event. They attacked all the churches. And the hooligans achieved their goal – the prayers were interrupted,” Songhulashvili said.

In connection with the incident, on January 27 the Evangelic-Baptist Church sent a letter to the President Eduard Shevardnadze, expressing regret that the Orthodox Christian Church of Georgia suffered the most because of this attack, because in the eyes of the world the hooligans appear to be acting on behalf of the Orthodox Church.

“We sincerely want that the Georgian state and church not to be associated with such violence,” says the letter, signed by the representatives of the Orthodox, Evangelic-Baptist, Catholic and Evangelic-Lutheran churches.

The human rights activists also joined the address of the religious groups. They expressed discontent with the fact that despite numerous demands, the government did nothing to curb the radical orthodox group’s activity.

The Patriarchy of Georgia also criticized the January 24 incident. In the nearest future Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, will meet with representatives of the Christian churches to discuss the issue.

Malkhaz Songhulashvili also blames the police, which was requested beforehand to provide safety of the believers, but appeared at the incident site very late. Non-governmental organizations also say the police chose to stay passive in such an incident once again.

The Liberty Institute an activist group advocating for the religious rights is demanding resignation of the Interior Minister and the chief of the Tbilisi Police.

“Mkalavishvili alone should not be blamed for this incident. The police is also responsible, as it did nothing to refuse tensions,” Sozar Subeliani of the Liberty Institute told Civil Georgia.

However, Paata Gomelauri, Spokesman for the Interior Ministry, rejected these accusations, saying that the police did everything to exclude higher damage or even human casualties during the incident.

“If the police did not intervene, outcomes would have been much graver. Furthermore, several police officers were injured during the incident,” Paata Gomelauri told Civil Georgia. He did not comment demands of the Liberty Institute, regarding resignation of the Interior Minister and the chief of Tbilisi Police.

Paata Gomelauri also said that criminal charges will be brought against organizers of the January 24 assault and every responsible person will be prosecuted. Criminal charges against Mkalavishvili are already invoked in connection with repeated assaults on Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The religious minorities keep urging the government to draw more attention to protection of their religious freedoms. They also demand a meeting with the President to discuss the activities of the religious groups in Georgia.

By Tea Gularidze, Civil Georgia

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