TDI on the Decision of Mokhe Commission
On December 1, 2016 Mokhe Commission (hereinafter the Commission) established by the State Agency for Religious Issues (hereinafter the Agency) determined that the Mokhe mosque shall stay in the state ownership and it will not be transferred to any religious organization. For many years, Muslims of Mokhe village have been requesting from the government to return the building to the community.
At the same time, the building that the State attempted to dismantle two years ago, by the decision of the Commission might be granted the status of the site of cultural heritage and be transferred to the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia. Afterwords, the Agency will present the project for protection the building.
The Commission offered local Muslims in Mokhe to allocate the land plot for building a new mosque. However, the starting date of the construction and the location has not been specified. In the statement made on December 1, by the State Agency for Religious Issues, it is noted that the Muslim community will be offered several locations for building a new mosque that will solve the problem of prayer restriction.
The decision made by the Commission headed by the State Agency for Religious Issues proves that neither the Commission nor the Agency take the problems and challenges of Muslim community into consideration. On the contrary, they ignore the fact that the reason for requesting the transfer of religious building to its historic owner is necessary not only due to the absence of the space for worship but rather for ensuring freedom of religion and equality enshrined in the Constitution.
From the very beginning, the Muslim community expressed mistrust towards the Commission, established in 2014. They presumed that the reason for creating the Commission was the procrastination of the process and it was not aimed at solving the problem. After 2 years since its establishment, the Commission refused to transfer the building to Muslim community without conducting any kind of scientific research about the origins of the building.
Currently, Muslims in Mokhe do not have a house of worship. Since October 2016, they are praying outside, under open sky as a form of a peaceful protest not only for allocating a prayer space, but for equality and democratic development of the country.
As it is mentioned in the official statements of the Commission and its representatives, the Administration of Muslims of All Georgia which is represented by four members in the Commission accept the terms of the decision and do not oppose its legal consequences. However, Muslims point out to TDI that the Administration does not express and protect legitimate interests of the community.
It has to be noted, that any decision made by the Commission is not legally binding and carries only recommendatory character, as the Commission is the administrative body and it does not possess the administrative powers. Furthermore, the Agency is not a competent body in the field of determining the possession of property by any private or legal entity.
As for the Commission’s decision on the issue of giving the status of cultural heritage to the disputed building, it can be considered as an unsubstantiated step that questions the State’s general policy and principles of granting the cultural heritage status to buildings.
Georgian Law on Cultural Heritage defines the criteria for filing and classifying the buildings and granting to them the status of cultural heritage. Pursuant to the law, in order to give the status of cultural heritage to the object the following steps need to be taken: identifying immovable or movable property object, processing the data as a result of a scientific research, evaluating the cultural and/or historical significance of an object. Based on the comprehensive study, the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia grants the status of cultural heritage site to a particular object. Therefore, it is unclear how the Commission that has not conducted any research to evaluate the cultural significance of the disputed building and does not have a relevant competence for that, decided that the building should have been granted the mentioned status.
The issue of the Mokhe mosque is a part of wider, systemic problem related to the restitution of the confiscated property to religious minorities and stands out as one of the top priorities for religious organizations. After dissolution of the Soviet Union, only the Georgian Orthodox Church has been able to regain the confiscated property, that indicates the discriminatory policy of the State on religious-ethnic grounds.
In the framework of the current legislation, the restitution of the confiscated property that is now in the state ownership, fully depends on government’s political will.
Based on the above-mentioned, TDI addresses:
The Government of Georgia:
To adequately and fairly evaluate the cases of persecution of Muslims, infringement on freedom of religion and observe religious neutrality;
Timely, effectively and fairly ensure the return of the property confiscated during the Soviet period to religious organizations;
The Parliament of Georgia:
To start working actively on the universal standard for returning the confiscated property to its historical owners;
Local Government of Adigeni Municipality:
To stand by the principle of religious neutrality and ensure the exercise of religious freedom for all citizens.
Apart from the above-mentioned, due to the systemic violation of Muslims’ rights in recent years, TDI addresses:
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia:
To Act within the limits of the law, without a discriminatory approach. Also, the Ministry should take effective measures to prevent further violations and protect the principles of religious freedom and equality, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia.
The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia:
Timely and effectively investigate instances of physical violence allegedly committed by the representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs against Muslims in Samtatskaro, Chela and Mokhe villages.
For previous statements and analysis of TDI on Mokhe issue read here:
Analysis of Occurances in Mokhe Village: http://www.tdi.ge/en/news/164-analysis-occurrences-mokhe-village
TDI on Further Violation of Muslims’ Rights in Mokhe Village: http://tdi.ge/en/statement/tdi-further-violation-muslims-rights-mokhe-village