For Immediate Release
October 20, 1999
(Georgian in PDF format)
Christians mobbed in Georgia; Shevardnadze calls for investigation
On Sunday, October 17, 1999, a mob of about 200 attacked 120 Christians during a worship service in Tbilisi, Georgia. All in attendance at the meeting place of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including women and children, were beaten with iron crosses and clubs. Fifteen required hospital treatment. One woman remains in the hospital and has suffered a partial loss of vision due to a severe blow to the head.
The mob was led by Bassillists, followers of a hard-line priest who was excommunicated from the Georgian Orthodox Church. A few escaped from the mob and reported the attack to two local police stations. Police refused to provide protection to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Bassillists videotaped their own mob action and submitted copies of the tape to local media. At least two television stations aired the tape and called for police action against the mob. On Monday, the victims filed complaints with the public prosecutor’s office. It is unclear whether any arrests have been made. Georgia President Eduard Shevardnadze condemned the actions of the mob and called for an investigation and for a criminal case to be brought against the perpetrators.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been present in Georgia for decades and are legally registered.
Violence and harassment by nationalist extremists against Jehovah’s Witnesses have escalated in recent months. In April, the political party “Georgia Above All!” and its leader Guram Sharadze, a member of the national parliament, filed a civil complaint against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Customs problems and at least two physical attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses followed. In June, extremists disrupted the civil court proceedings, and one rogue priest burned the religious literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses outside the court. Police have been pressured by extremist forces within the largely democratic government to harass Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The civil court action against Jehovah’s Witnesses calls for determining whether the religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses are legitimate. On May 20, 1999, Georgia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in connection with its admittance to the Council of Europe. The European Court of Human Rights has already determined that a judgment of religious beliefs by a secular court violates the European Convention.
Further persecution is anticipated as the October 31 national election nears.
Contact: J. R. Brown, telephone: (718) 560-5600