Thursday, 6 May 2010

Hate violence on the rise in Georgia ahead of municipal election in Tbilisi

Inclusive Foundation
Tbilisi, Georgia

In the wake of upcoming municipal elections on the May 30th, a strong wave hate speech against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has been unleashed forcefully by radical nationalist and religious groups in Georgia. We have witnessed several high profile cases in which Georgian politicians, parliamentarians, public figures and journalists have brought LGBT issues in politicized context, making LGBT community the target for defamation, disgrace and physical violence.

During the winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) the issue of hearing on the resolution on “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” gave push to controversy in Georgia, thus prompting the leaders of several religious communities to condemn PACE’s intention to address the issue of homophobia. This criticism was immediately accelerated by Christian Democrat’s Movement, a political party represented in the Georgian Parliament. The Party misinterpreted resolution as obligatory instrument for recognizing same sex marriage and parental rights and was able to stir negative PR for the resolution in Georgia.

Several weeks later, new People’s Orthodox Movement was founded by Mr. Malkhaz Gulashvili, a newspaper publisher known for his close ties with the Russian authorities. His Moscow ties has frequently put him in a position when he needed to answer pressing questions about his fidelity to Georgian national interests. Instead of submitting direct answers, Mr. Gulashvili adopted a strategy to drive away from the discussion by irrelevantly scape-goating lesbians and gays, problematizing homosexuality and calling them perverts and sick. This has enabled him and his supporters redirect any public discussion from his own agenda. Mr. Gulashvili has dangerously partaken in into endless and shameless session of insult and defamation of his LGBT co nationals. He and other members of the movement have been outspoken rather radically, calling on punishing all who are, in his words “against orthodox beliefs and values”.

As a matter of fact, on the May 3rd 2010, International Press Freedom Day, extremist orthodox organizations: Peoples' Orthodox Movement and Orthodox Parents' Union organized rally in front of Ilia State University that later on was joined by two Mayoral candidates. They requested withdrawal of Irakli Deisadze’s book from the university bookstore. The newly published book is criticizing extremist orthodox ideology, allegedly including passages that may upset the feelings of Christian Orthodox believers. In addition, the protesters have requested to allocate place for Orthodox worship in the state university and demanded dismissal of University Rector Mr. Gigi Tevzadze. The latter, they claimed, drives the youth (meaning students) to perversion. Organizers disseminated information leaflets that presented excerpts from the book with the accent on content of the book that has homosexual allusions.

On May 4th 2010, responding to this attack on Ilia State University, a number of civil activists decided to stage flash mob in front of the same university to defend the freedom of expression and alert public about the fascistic hysteria in the country. They feared that demanding to ban a piece of publication from the university bookstore is an extremely alarming signal of infringement of one’s constitutional and inalienable right to free expression and access to information.

During the May 4th demonstration, several persons from People’s Orthodox Movement joined the mob and attempted to disrupt it. Later on, members of extremist groups, they steadily outnumbered the civil activists, have started targeting organizers and participants. Street bullying has taken place, coupled with anti-gay slogans and chase, beating and otherwise attacks on civil activists physical and mental integrity. This has happened regardless of the fact that the mob aimed at supporting general freedom of speech and not any particular groups' rights. In other words, this was not an LGBT demonstration whatsoever. Police have not interfered adequately, they only tried to separate individuals when fight have become extreme. Neither did they stop perpetrators from limiting right of free assembly of mob participants. In addition to this they made participants leave the territory while letting perpetrators remain in control of the vicinity until they made sure mob was disrupted.

Several participants were severely beaten up in front of police officers, others were chased in the street by perpetrators with knives in their hands. Perpetrators were individually asking about participants sexual orientation while targeting them. While doing so, they have been threatening with physical liquidation and sexual assault. Several persons have suffered brain concoction and corporal injuries. Some have been targeted on following day in their neighborhoods after been identified through television coverage.

We appeal to the relevant authorities in Georgia to denounce their position on impunity policy in relation to these extremist groups over last two years. None of the members of these groups have been punished or held otherwise accountable. This is contributing to increasingly threatening violent actions on their behalf. They simply grew stronger and are equipped with the sense of moral supremacy since the politicians, the judiciary and the general public not only denounce their disruptive actions, but silently side with them.

We appeal to diplomatic missions in Georgia to raise this issue with the Georgian authorities. We also appeal to the representation of the Council of Europe to remind Georgia of its obligation to respect human rights and dignity of its citizens. We urge the EU institutions to reflect on this incident during evaluating progress of European Neighborhood Policy National Action Plan, in the process of bilateral Human Rights Dialogue, and in the frames of Eastern Partnership talks. We will include this incident in shadow report when Georgia undergoes Universal Periodic Review with UN Human Rights Council.

We appeal to human rights groups worldwide to address Georgia’s diplomatic representations abroad, and to ask them condemn hate biased violence against any person in Georgia, exacerbated by the impunity Georgian state has delegated to extremist groups.

*pictures - by Paata Sabelashvili