For Immediate Release
April 29, 2003
Extremists attack victims and attorneys in Georgia court
TBILISI, Georgia—Today, as the trial of Vasili Mkalavishvili and Petre (Gia) Ivanidze resumed, their supporters took over the courtroom and, in the presence of several policemen, hurled obscenities and threats at the victims of previous attacks and their attorneys. The attackers also assaulted some of those present, including foreign observers. Police intervened only to protect a foreign observer. The mob of Mkalavishvili’s followers entered the courtroom carrying two large religious flags and quickly became agitated. An observer reported hearing one of them, Mikheil Nikolozishvili, shout at the victims: “We know where you all live, and we will terrorize you; we will blow you up!” He then tried to assault one victim, Badri Kopaliani, who was already fending off blows from other attackers. Ivanidze also attempted to assault Mr. Kopaliani.
Attorney Manuchar Tsimintia reported that Mkalavishvili warned him: “If you file any more criminal complaints against me or the Jvari group in Rustavi, we will cut off both of your hands!” In the presence of policemen, victim Ketino Sekhniashvili was physically expelled from the courtroom by two members of the mob. Foreign observers fled the courtroom in fear.
When the judge entered the courtroom, the violence subsided. During the next four hours, victims who took the stand were asked personal questions, including why they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, why they had changed religion, and what was the religion of their relatives. During the questioning, the audience jeered and laughed. At the end of the hearing, while the judge was still sitting on the bench, victims’ attorney Shalva Katsiashvili was kicked and punched by members of the mob as he left the courtroom. The judge stated that the hearing would resume on May 12. After carrying on a reign of terror against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious groups since October 1999, Mkalavishvili and his mob continue their acts of violence, apparently with impunity.
Contact: J. R. Brown, telephone: (718) 560-5600