Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe


UNITED STATES HELSINKI COMMISSION

An independant agency of the United States Government charged with monitoring and encouraging compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and other commitments of the 55 countries participating in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Press Releases


Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Chairman
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Co-Chairman
For Immediate Release
www.csce.gov
May 15, 2002

FULL TEXT OF LETTER TO GEORGIA'S
PRESIDENT EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE


May 15, 2002
His Excellency Eduard Shevardnadze
President
Republic of Georgia
Tbilisi, Georgia

Dear President Shevardnadze:

Alarmed by reports of continued organized mob violence against minority religious groups, we want to express our concern about the apparent inability of your government to end the attacks and provide adequate redress. Permitting these ongoing and egregious violations eviscerates Georgia’s commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). We urge you to take concrete steps to provide for the security of all Georgians without distinction as to religion.

For more than two years, mob attacks against members of minority religious communities have repeatedly occurred, often with police refusing to restrain the attackers or actually participating in the violence. Since October 1999, nearly 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, most led by a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, Vasili Mkalavishvili. Other minority religious communities have also been targeted by Mkalavishvili, including a Pentecostal church, an Evangelical church, and a warehouse owned by the Baptist Union. Reports cite religious services being raided, people being dragged by their hair and then summarily punched, kicked and clubbed, as well as buses carrying Jehovah’s Witnesses being stopped and attacked. To date, these transgressions have gone unpunished, despite the reported filing of over 700 criminal complaints.

While the commencement on January 25, 2002 of criminal proceedings against Mkalavishvili and one of his top lieutenants for two mob attacks gave pause for hope, that hope quickly faded. The charges brought in the Didube-Chugureti District Court are for minor offenses, and, since the initial hearing, postponement of the case has occurred five times due to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, overrunning the court. With police refusing to provide adequate security, lawyers filed a motion asking for court assistance, but the judge ruled the maximum security allowed would be 10 policemen, while no limit was placed on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers permitted to enter. In contrast, the Ministry of Interior has protected its own officials by reportedly providing more than 200 police when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges.

Certainly the Georgian Government could provide adequate security in such a setting, but your government is not taking effective steps to deter individuals and groups from employing violence against minority faith communities. Failure to confront these transgressions will only lead Mkalavishvili, as well as other criminals, to continually flout Georgian laws. Accordingly, we call upon you, Mr. President, to put an end to these attacks, and to honor Georgia’s OSCE commitments to promote and protect religious freedom. We ask you to ensure concrete steps are taken to punish the perpetrators through vigorous prosecution, thereby demonstrating that such violence will not be tolerated.

Sincerely,



Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S
Chairman

Christopher H. Smith, M.C.
Co-Chairman

Christopher J. Dodd, U.S.S.
Ranking Member
Steny H. Hoyer, M.C.
Ranking Member

Gordon Smith, U.S.S.
Commissioner
Joseph R. Pitts, M.C.
Commissioner

Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S.S.
Commissioner
Benjamin L. Cardin, M.C.
Commissioner

Joseph Lieberman, U.S.S. Zach Wamp, M.C.
Commissioner

Robert B. Aderholt, M.C.
Commissioner
Alcee L. Hastings, M.C.
Commissioner

Louise McIntosh Slaughter, M.C.
Commissioner
Anthony Weiner, M.C.
J.C. Watts, M.C.
Media Contact: Ben Anderson
202.225.1901
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Countries

Georgia

Issues

Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion or Belief


   
 

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