By Paata Sabelashvili, Inclusive Foundation, Tbilisi
With upcoming municipal elections set for May 30, a strong wave of hate speech against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has been forcefully unleashed 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 politicised context, making the 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 the resolution on “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” gave a push to the 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 have 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 scapegoating lesbians and gays, 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 3, International Press Freedom Day, two extremist orthodox organisations, the Peoples’ Orthodox Movement and Orthodox Parents’ Union, organised rally in front of Ilia State University which was attended by two mayoral candidates. They requested withdrawal of Irakli Deisadze’s book from the university bookstore.
The newly published book criticises extremist orthodox ideology, and allegedly includes passages that may upset the feelings of Christian Orthodox believers. In addition, the protesters requested a place for Orthodox worship in the state university and demanded dismissal of University Rector, Gigi Tevzadze who, they claim, drives the youth (meaning students) to perversion. Organisers handed out information leaflets that quoted excerpts from the book, with the accent on content of the book that has homosexual allusions.
On May 4, 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 4 demonstration, several people from People’s Orthodox Movement joined the mob and attempted to disrupt it. Later on, members of extremist groups steadily outnumbered the activists and started targeting organisers and participants. Street bullying, coupled with anti-gay slogans, chasing and attacking the 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 did not adequately handle the situation; they only tried to separate individuals when fights 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 concussion and physical injuries. Some were targeted on following day in their neighbourhoods having been identified through television coverage.
At the Inclusive Foundation, we appeal to the relevant authorities in Georgia to reverse 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 otherwise held accountable. This is contributing to increasingly threatening violent actions by them. They simply grow stronger and now have the sense of moral supremacy as politicians, the judiciary and the general public not only fail to 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 Council of Europe to remind Georgia of its obligation to respect human rights and dignity of its citizens. We urge the institutions of the European Union to reflect on this incident during evaluating the progress of European Neighbourhood 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 the Georgian State has afforded to these extremist groups