Muslims Have been Discriminated: Batumi City Court’s Decision on a Mosque Case
Today, on September 30, Batumi City Court announced a decision on Batumi mosque case - the claims of Muslims’ foundation to support building a new mosque were partially satisfied. The court found discrimination, annulled the decision of Batumi City Hall’s refusal to grant the first stage construction permit and returned the case to Batumi City Hall for reconsideration. Accordingly, Batumi City Hall will have to reconsider issuing the building permit for a new mosque. The court did not, however, satisfy the claim of the plaintiff to directly assign the Batumi City Hall to issue the first stage construction permit.
The court’s decision regarding discrimination shall be assessed positively. Unequal treatment is based on the fact that there are seven Georgian Orthodox churches built in the same residential area, including some of them on municipality-owned lands. The judge noted that the City Hall’s approach towards two different religious communities is unequal.
At the same time, we believe that after establishing discrimination, the court should have had essentially resolved the dispute, had to fully satisfy the plaintiff’s claims and directly assign the Batumi City Hall to issue an administrative decree granting the first stage building permit.
To summarize, the court case refers to Batumi City Hall’s denial to Muslim community to build a house of worship in Batumi and indentifying discrimination on religious grounds. The State did not take into consideration Muslims’ multiple requests and need to build a new mosque. When the City Hall did not issue a building permit, the State undermined Muslims fundamental rights to fully exercise freedom of religion and belief.
After multiple promises of the State without any tangible results, in 2016 Muslim community collected more than 12,000 signatures and submitted to the local and central government, asking for the territory to build a new mosque. The request was ignored again by the State.
Afterwards, Muslim community decided to purchase land for a new mosque with their own resources and with the help of worshipers' donations. In 2017 they applied to Batumi City Hall with the request of granting a building permit. As a result, the City Hall refused to issue a permit. In June of 2017, local initiative group of Muslims brought a case to Batumi city court. The main claims were as follows: To annul the refusal of Batumi City Hall on the first stage of issuing a building permit; To order Batumi City Hall issue the first stage building permit; To identify discrimination on religious grounds and eradicate its results.
In Batumi multiple Georgian Orthodox churches have been built in the vicinity of the claimed territory for the mosque, including in the residential area. In some cases, the land plots were allocated by the municipality. Taking into consideration these preconditions, City Hall’s refusal to grant a building permit for a mosque on Muslims’ owned territory, is the discrimination on religious grounds.
In 2017 Public Defender of Georgia examined the legal grounds of the decision of Batumi City Hall and determined that the decision was made without considering the relevant circumstances and proper justification. The Public Defender addressed Batumi City Hall with a recommendation requesting to annul the refusal on building permit and make a new justified decision.
Violation of Muslim’s fundamental rights and the State policy have been critically evaluated by local and international organizations.
The interests of Muslim community in Batumi in the mosque case are represented by Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC).
Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) carries out strategic litigation within the framework of East-West Management Institute’s (EWMI) "Promoting Rule of Law in Georgia" (PROLoG) project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).