“The March of the Georgians” assault on Rustavi 2 TV journalists on Monday, and the government’s handling of the incident has met mixed reactions in the religious community and the civil society organizations.
The March 19 attack, which followed the controversial Christ-related remark of TV host Giorgi Gabunia a day earlier, ended with the detention of several protesters and brief hospitalization of journalist Davit Eradze.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Georgian Patriarchate stressed Gabunia’s remark was “a challenge to the society with its brazen, sarcastic and cynical nature.”
“We cannot support violence, but at the same time, we call for strict reaction from the government so that the believers do not have a feeling of injustice and insecurity,” reads their statement.
“Freedom of expression is one of the main pillars of a democratic society and of human rights protection, but this right carries responsibility [as well] and is related to protecting others’ rights and freedoms,” the Georgian Patriarchate noted.
A group of eight civil society organizations, united under the No to Phobia coalition, stressed the opposite, saying in their March 21 statement that it was “unacceptable to limit freedom of expression on the grounds of preventing the so called insult of religious feelings.”
“The very essence of freedom of expression is to have an opportunity to voice opinions, that can be critical, shocking and even defamatory, and the religious feelings (which are subjective and individual) are not and cannot become the reason for justifying any such restrictions,” the organizations wrote.
A group of eleven opposition parties, including the United National Movement, the European Georgia, the Free Democrats and the Republicans, shared the sentiment of the civil society organizations, saying in their joint statement on March 21 that the incident “was outright restriction of freedoms of expression and speech.”
According to the Interior Ministry, five activists of the March of the Georgians, an ultranationalist and ultraconservative movement, will face group hooliganism charges, which is punishable with maximum penalty of imprisonment from two to five years.