For Immediate Release
May 3, 2007
European Court rules against Georgia’s campaign of terror
STRASBOURG, FRANCE—In a unanimous judgment issued today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the government of Georgia for its toleration of religious violence toward Jehovah’s Witnesses and ordered the victims be compensated for moral damages and legal costs.
The application, 97 Members of the Gldani Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses & 4 Others v. Georgia, focused on the initial vicious attack on the Gldani Congregation by a defrocked Orthodox priest, Vasili Mkalavishvili, and a mob of his followers, on October 17, 1999.
The Court noted that from October 1999 to November 2002, there were 138 violent attacks carried out against Jehovah’s Witnesses and 784 complaints were lodged with the Georgian authorities. No careful and serious investigation was carried out into any of those complaints. The Court attached importance to the fact that the attack had been filmed by one of the attackers and broadcast on two national television channels over several days. The Court also noted that the police had refused to intervene promptly at the scene of the incident, failing to protect the applicants and the children of some of them from the violent attack. The applicants were subsequently faced with total indifference on the part of the authorities who, for no valid reason, refused to apply the law in their case. Through their lack of action, the Georgian authorities had failed in their duty to adopt the necessary measures to ensure that the applicants would be able to exercise their right to freedom of religion. Furthermore, no justification for that discriminatory treatment regarding the applicants had been put forward by the Georgian government.
Mr. Andre Carbonneau, lawyer for the applicants, described the verdict as “yet another significant judgment for freedom of religion.” He added: “The Court has reaffirmed the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as a known Christian religion, to meet for worship and Bible study, in private homes and in rented halls free from interruption. It has also recognized the element of unlawful discrimination and the need to deal promptly with violent attacks by religious extremists.”
From 1999 to 2003, Georgia witnessed a reign of terror, encouraged by a culture of impunity, whereby roaming mobs of religious fanatics were allowed to attack innocent citizens. Jehovah’s Witnesses were repeatedly subjected to physical and verbal abuse, to the ransacking and burning of their homes, to confiscation and public burning of their literature, and to frequent disruption of religious meetings.
The violent persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia has largely abated since the change of government in November 2003. It is hoped that today’s European Court judgment will help to secure the religious freedom of minority religions in Georgia. Jehovah’s Witnesses have practiced their faith in Georgia for 50 years and now number over 15,000.
Contact: J. R. Brown, telephone: (718) 560-5600