For Immediate Release
February 5, 2002
Frenzy forces postponement as mob of 300 overrun court
TBILISI, Georgia—The criminal trial of renegade priest Vasili Mkalavishvili and Petre (Gia) Ivanidze, which was scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m. today in the Didube-Chughureti court, has been postponed after Mkalavishvili and his followers invaded the courtroom. Before the hearing began, a mob of about three hundred, mostly men, armed with metal and wooden crosses, tried to invade the courtroom. Many did enter the courtroom and rang their religious bell and waved large anti-Jehovah's Witness banners as they sat down and occupied areas reserved for attorneys.
As the victims’ attorneys made their way through the mob to Judge Ioseb Chkheidze’s chambers, they overheard security police being ordered away from the scene. The courtroom was left with no security. Attorneys explained to Justice Chkheidze that under these circumstances it was impossible to proceed with the trial as it was too dangerous for the victims or their attorneys to attend. Furthermore, a fair trial could not be held under such circumstances. The judge agreed and postponed the trial.
This is the second attempt to proceed in court against Mkalavishvili and Ivanidze. The first time, on January 25, 2002, the prosecutor failed to appear and the case had to be postponed. The same day, Mkalavishvili led his followers in another attack. His mob held personnel of television station Stereo One under siege in their building for an hour and a half, threatening to burn down the building if the station did not stop broadcasting a non-Orthodox religious program. A few days later, on February 3, 2002, he led a mob of 150 on a raid of the warehouse of the Baptist Church, burning thousands of Bibles and pieces of religious literature. In spite of these events, State authorities refuse to arrest the religious extremists and the violent intimidation continues.
Contact: J. R. Brown, telephone: (718) 560-5600
Video footage of previous attacks and photographs of injuries are available to the media upon request.