TDI in the US International Religious Freedom Report 2014
On October 14, the US Department of State published annual International Religious Freedom Report for 2014, including a report on freedom of religion in Georgia.
The international report was presented by the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who in his speech said: “The purpose of this annual report is to highlight the importance of religious freedom not by lecturing but through advocacy and through persuasion. Our primary goal is to help governments everywhere recognize that their societies will do better with religious liberty than without it. The world has learned through very hard experience that religious pluralism encourages and enables contributions from all; while religious discrimination is often the source of conflicts that endanger all”.
The report about Georgia overviews the problems that are faced by religious minorities for many years, including: the issue of restitution of property seized from religious organizations during the Soviet period, violation of religious neutrality at public educational institutions, unequal financial and tax regime.
In addition to the above-mentioned issues, the report covers facts of religious discrimination in 2014, state policy in this regard and generally, the situation related to freedom of religion in the reporting period.
The report says that number of physical assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses has increased in 2014. Preventing functioning of Muslims’ boarding school in Kobuleti and nailing a pig’s had to its door by the opponents; using unnecessary force by police against local muslims in the village of Mokhe and inefficient state policy regarding the disputed building in the village are also covered in the document.
According to the report, religious communities are facing obstacles from the State in the field of construction of religious buildings: the municipality council of Terjola suspended a construction permit for the Jehovah’s Witnesses; the Rustavi municipality had refused to provide the Catholic Church with a construction permit to build a house of worship; the government failed to address the need of Muslim community - to build a new mosque in Batumi - as the existing mosque has insufficient space and therefore, is overcrowded.
Facts of intolerance of Orthodox clergy towards minorities and obstacles against religious minorities created by the societal groups to hold religious events are also described in the report.
According to the report, in 2014 The government established the State Agency on Religious Affairs and provided it with funds to compensate four religious groups for damages inflicted during the Soviet period. Religious organizations and NGOs criticized a lack of transparency in the selection process, as other religious groups were not chosen to receive compensation.
TDI in the Report
The Report includes information based on TDI’s studies and statement, namely:
“According to TDI, the number of offenses in the first five months of 2014 almost equaled the total from 2013, a year which had a fourfold increase compared to 2012”.
“In February the government established the State Agency on Religious Affairs to coordinate with the prime minister on religious policy matters such as education, property, and funding. The TDI, in its Study of Religious Discrimination and Constitutional Secularism released during the year, said the state had founded the state agency without consulting a wide range of religious organizations, the public defender, or NGOs focused on protecting religious minorities’ rights. NGOs and religious groups criticized the state agency for not hiring religious minorities and for a lack of transparency in its decision making processes”.
“TDI’s report on the needs of religious organizations in the country included a survey in which respondents stated the GOC clergy contributed to hostile societal attitudes towards minority religious communities”.
“Members of non-Orthodox Christian churches told TDI of societal resistance to their activities. The Pentecostal Church was unable to secure a location to host a festival”.