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According to the statement of United National Movement member, Levan Tarkhnishvili: "There were several instances when the rights of religious minorities in Georgia were violated. Specifically, these facts happened in Chela, Mokhe, Samtatskaro, Tsintskaro and Nigvziani. These incidents were not investigated and no one was punished."

FactCheck

looked into the accuracy of this statement.

On 26 October 2012, part of the population of the village of Nigvziani in the Lanchkhuti Municipality protested against traditional common prayer gatherings held by the village’s Muslim population. After the completion of the Friday prayer ritual, Nigvziani’s local Christians blocked the road for the Muslims and demanded that they abolish their place of worship. According to the explanation of local Muslims, Christians forcibly entered their place of worship and threatened to burn it down if they chose to resume their prayers. The Report of the Public Defender of Georgia says that these facts were not adequately followed up by the police who did not stop the crime from happening and failed to punish those individuals participating in this criminal act.

The aforementioned conflict was finally resolved on 5 November 2012 at a meeting held by the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee of the Parliament of Georgia which was attended by representatives of Nigvziani’s mufti, the Public Defender of Georgia and representatives of religious minorities. The meeting produced an agreement that the village’s local Muslims would be allowed to resume their prayers freely. On 9 November 2012, the traditional Friday prayers in Nigvziani went ahead peacefully.

Another confrontation upon religious grounds took place in the village of Tsintskaro in the Tetritskaro Municipality where the village’s Christian population claimed that a cross was cut down at the gate to the common cemetery for both Christians and Muslims at the end of November 2012. Because of this, Tsintskaro’s Christian population prevented the village’s Muslims from going to their place of worship to hold ceremonies there. This problem was also resolved with an agreement concluded at a meeting which was held between representatives of the Orthodox Christian and Muslim communities and their religious leaders on 10 December 2012. According to the agreement, the person who removed the cross from the gate would be punished and the village’s Christians would not prevent their Muslim fellow citizens from holding their religious rituals.

Unlike the events in Nigvziani and Tsintskaro, actions against Muslims continued for a period of two months in the village of Samtatskaro in the Dedoplistskaro Municipality. As a result, the Muslim community’s spiritual leader temporarily left the village and the traditional Friday prayers were terminated.

Religious conflict in Samtatskaro followed the attempt of village Muslims to open their own separate place of worship. Muslims who arrived at the mosque to attend the traditional Friday prayers on 24 May 2013 were prevented from doing so by the Orthodox Christian population of Samtatskaro as well as by people from neighbouring villages. This was manifested by taking the Koran, a table and the rug out of the mosque alongside physical as well as verbal abuses directed towards the Muslims. According to the statement of the locals, the police were present during the incident but did nothing to stop it from happening.

A special target of the aforementioned aggression was the leader of the Muslim community, Suliko Khozrevanidze. According to his statement, on 7 June 2013 he was visited by two strangers who arrived by automobile and claimed to be representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia and threatened him with imprisonment for creating religious tensions in the village. The Public Defender of Georgia addressed the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia with the demand to start an immediate investigation of the case.

In her interview with FactCheck,

the representative of the Public Defender’s Office, Nino Sulamanidze, pointed out that the population of the village was encouraged by the Governor of the village herself, Gulnara Nadirashvili, who not only ignored the facts of the pressure and threats directed towards the community’s Muslims but, according to the account of some of the locals, also visited the Muslims in their homes and demanded that they stop their prayers. The Public Defender of Georgia addressed the office of the Governor of Dedoplistskaro Municipality with a demand to punish the village governor by means of disciplinary tools. The municipality limited itself to only giving a warning.

Another confrontation on religious grounds also happened in the village of Mokhe in the Adigeni Municipality in which local Muslims protested restoration work being done in one of the buildings owned by the municipality – a historical mosque. Mokhe’s Muslims have been demanding the transfer of this building to their community over the past years.

Police operatives present at the meeting arrested 14 Muslims for participating in the protests. As those who were arrested told a representative of the Public Defender of Georgia, they were verbally insulted by the police who called them "Tatars." In addition, the external examination found that these people had sustained physical injuries.

Three of the detained were freed from jail on 23 October 2014 whilst the remaining 11 were fined by a decision of the Regional Court of Akhaltsikhe. In addition, by the decision of the City Court of Tbilisi, two of these people were exempted from paying the fines.

A Special Commission for determining the property rights concerning the disputed building was created on 2 December 2014. The Commission, however, failed to make an adequate decision or incorporate the Public Defender’s Office or non-governmental organisations in its meetings. According to the statement of a representative of the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre, Tamta Mikeladze, the legitimacy of the Commission is problematic as it is an absolutely closed structure and not subject to public control.

A case of limiting the right of religious freedom also took place in the village of Chela in the Adigeni Municipality. On 14 July 2013, Chela’s Muslim population acquired an iron minaret from Turkey with its own funds and installed it near their mosque. This event caused a protest among the village’s local Christians.

On 1 August 2013, the local government office of the Adigeni Municipality started administrative proceedings concerning the unlawful placement of the minaret in Chela. However, the removal of the minaret was done by the Revenue Service of Georgia following an additional field inspection and not by the local government. The reason for the removal of the minaret was that the head of the Chela mosque, Jambul Abuladze, filled in the customs papers incorrectly when bringing the minaret to Georgia so as to decrease the import fee. In suit, a full mobilisation of the police was announced in the village, all roads were closed and locals were prevented from approaching the mosque. The road was only reopened when the minaret was taken out of the village. A protest meeting followed at the local magistrate with the participation of the village’s Muslims during which Ministry of Internal Affairs forces detained 22 protesters, releasing 13 of them after interrogation. Six people were detained for the violation of administrative rules whilst three were accused of criminal activity. These allegations were later dismissed.

According to the statement of the Public Defender of Georgia, the Revenue Service of Georgia had no legal authority to remove the minaret. According to the 21 November 2007 Agreement on Free Trade between Georgia and Turkey, the purchased goods are free from import tax. In addition, the Revenue Service exceeded its authority.

On 27 November 2013, after the documentation concerning the construction of the minaret was made in accordance with the acting legislation in Georgia, the Adigeni Municipality council replaced the minaret.

Freedom of religion is provided for by Article 19 of the Constitution of Georgia. The article says that persecuting people based upon their religious affiliation is prohibited. The Criminal Code of Georgia provides for criminal prosecution of those preventing religious rituals. By making the prevention of religious rituals illegal, the government took the responsibility for preventing such cases and of reacting adequately in the case of the violation of this law.

The 2013-2014 Report of the Public Defender of Georgia makes it clear that the actions taken against the Muslims were due to their religious identity; specifically, Christian citizens did not accept Islam and its symbols appearing in a broader public space. According to Public Defender’s assessment, the police did not fulfil the positive obligation taken by the state concerning religious freedom in any of the aforementioned cases. The attitude towards the crimes, impunity, bias for the majority in certain cases and ineffective measures used by the police only aggravated the problems. EU Special Adviser on Constitutional and Legal Reform and Human Rights in Georgia, Thomas Hammarberg, also focused upon this problem in his 2013 Report.

As for the situation today, as we were told by a representative of the Public Defender’s Office, investigations have been concluded on none of the abovementioned cases. It is true that agreements between some Christians and some Muslims were reached; however, the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre’s research shows that these are fragile. For example, local Christians in the village of Nigvziani express their dissatisfaction with the terms of the resolution of the conflict and add that there is a possibility of the conflict restarting. According to the Muslim community’s explanation, the insulting attitude of the Christian population towards them continued following the agreement.

No decision has been made about the building under dispute in the village of Mokhe. The investigation in Tsintskaro started only concerning the fact of the removing of the cross at the cemetery gate and remains unfinished. According to the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre’s representative’s statement, the actions directed against Muslims were in many cases qualified as a threat only when these actions were in fact far more than just threats and turned into real persecution. However, the investigation concerning both the threats and acts of persecution remain unfinished. In Samtatskaro, the traditional Friday prayers have not been renewed even as of today. As for Chela, as the head of the Chela mosque, Jambul Abuladze, told FactCheck,

he received a letter from the Revenue Service about the renewal of the inspection. In addition, he also said that during the field inspection on 19 November 2015, Revenues Service of Georgia issued a fine in the amount of GEL 774 to him personally. According to the Revenue Service’s explanation, the investigation determined that Mr Abuladze had indicated a lower cost for transportation in his documentation.

Conclusion

Cases of the violation of the rights of religious minorities took place in the villages of Nigvziani, Tsintskaro, Samtatskaro, Mokhe and Chela in 2012 and 2013. There were cases of threats and physical violence. The conflicts were mainly concluded by agreements between the Christian and Muslim communities. Problems are yet to be resolved in Mokhe and Samtatskaro.

According to the statement of the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia, investigations concerning the crimes committed during these conflicts are still on-going and it is difficult to say when and how they will be concluded.

Hence, FactCheck concludes that Levan Tarkhnishvili’s statement is TRUE.