Statement of NGO-s Regarding the Hope Festival

We, the signatory organizations, are responding to the events that developed in connection with the International Hope Festival and believe that interrupting the conduct of the festival restricts the religious freedom of thereligious organizationsthat are organizers of the event and festival participants, and presumably contains signs of religious discrimination.

As the public is informed, on June 6-8, 2014, it was planned to hold the International Hope Festival in which local and international Christian-Evangelical associations and many other guests were supposed to take part. The festival organizers had been organizing the event for a year. The festival was supposed to be held for three days in the Sports Palace with whose administration the organizers had concluded a contract well in advance and paid the service fee. To place an advertisement about the festival, a corresponding contact had been concluded with the Outdoor.geadvertisingcompany. The service fee was also paid in advance in this case.

In spite of the agreements, the organizers encountered a number of barriers from the contractors in the process of organization of the festival. Due to the barriers, it has now become impossible to hold the festival in an open public venue.

Specifically, several days before the start of the festival, advertising company Outdoor.ge violated terms of the contract and removed a large part of theoutdoor advertisementswhich were only restored after the media and various organizations had shown their interest in the issue.

On June 2, a participant of a number of extremist acts, Giorgi Gabedava, made a statement about the Hope Festival. He noted that he would not allow the festival to be held and would organize a corridor of shame for people heading to the Sports Palace.

On June 3, three days before the ceremonial opening of the festival was to be held, the organizers learned that a fire had broken out on the roof of one of the wings of the Sports Palace which was localized shortly. According to the head of the Tbilisi Emergency Situations Service, Temur Giorgadze, the fire did not cause a significant damage. In spite of this, according to the festival organizers, within several hours of the fire and without assessing the stability of the building, the director of the Sports Palace told them that it would be impossible to hold the event in the Sports Palace in the nearest six or seven days due to the safety risks of the building. On the next day, a state technical examination was held to assess the stability of the building, though, despite thehigh interestof the public in the issue, its results were not made public before the festival. And the administration of the Sports Palace, referring to safety risks, did not allow the festival organizers to enter the building and conduct an independent technical examination. As the scale of the fire was small and the organizers, as well as representatives of the Public Defender and NGOs, entered the building without hindrance in the subsequent days, the reply of the administration obviously seems unsubstantiated. This circumstance clearly reinforces the doubts that the festival is being interrupted artificially. As the festival organizers indicate, after the fire in the Sports Palace, all their attempts to find an alternative venue for the festival (for example, Locomotive Stadium, Dynamo Stadium, Avchala Stadium, Circus) were unsuccessful, mainly because the aforementioned venues were busy at the time of the festival and the administrations of all the venues refused to host the festival.

The organizers of the Hope Festival communicated with various representatives of the authorities, including with the State Agency for Religious Issues, though the aforementioned communication did not yield any results and it is still impossible to hold the festival at an adequate public venue.

The fact that all similar public events have been constantly hindered for years, as well as the grave situation in terms of restriction of religious freedom, the tendency of indoctrination of public venues, and strengthening of various extremist groups, gives rise to questions and doubt that the barriers encountered by the Hope Festival were motivated by religious intolerance and were created artificially.

Considering the aforementioned, we believe that the facts related to interruption of the Hope Festival presumably contain signs of religious discrimination and need to be given an adequate assessment by the Public Defender, as well as bylaw enforcementbodies, in the framework of the mandate envisaged by the Law on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination. In this direction, it is important to:

  • investigate the causes of the fire;
  • immediately allow the organizers of the festival to conduct a technical examination in the Sports Palace to determine the causes of the fire and verify the stability of the building, so that the truth is established in connection with what has happened.

Despite the fact that the authorities were informed of the facts related to interruption of the festival, theyfailedto take effective measures to support the festival. Accordingly, we call on the authorities to help the organizers ensure that the festival is held in an open public venue at least in the remaining days and, by doing this, demonstrate their will and readiness to protect freedom of religion and diversity in the country.

We, the signatory organizations, express our support for the right of the organizers and all participants of the International Hope Festival to enjoy freedom of religion and faith recognized by the Constitution and, within the limits of our resources, express our legal and civil support for them.

 

Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)

Human Rights Educationand Monitoring Center (EMC)

Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI)

GeorgianYoung Lawyers Association(GYLA)

Article 42 of the Constitution

Media Development Foundation (MDF)

Jun/1406