On 14 October, 2016 representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs locked the entrance of former mosque in the village Mokhe, Adigeni municipality. The construction still remains “disputable property” between the State, Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) and the Muslim community.
The government restricted local Muslims from conducting religious rituals on the mentioned territory after they started peaceful prayer there few days ago. Muslims’ prayer was followed by the protest of the Orthodox clergy. On 14 October, GOC Metropolitan Theodore of Akhaltsikhe and Adigeni, held a press-conference on the issue and requested protection of the Orthodox’s rights. Simultaneously, at the time of the press conference, the police blocked the entrance of the so-called disputed building.
The mosque that today is preserved as remnants, was constructed by Meskhetian Muslims in the 1920s. Until Meskhetians’ mass exile by the the Soviet government, it had been functioning as a mosque. Since then, the function of the building changed several times during the Soviet period and was used as a storehouse, library and the village club. Since 2007 the building is property of the local municipality. For many years, Muslims of village Mokhe had been requesting from the government to return the building to the community. They have addressed local and central government several times, however without any tangible results.
It has to be mentioned, that in 2014, when the government and local Orthodox parish and clergy confronted the Muslim community, GOC also started claiming ownership over the disputed building. According to them, in the 16th century there was a Christian temple on this territory. However, contrary to the Orthodox community, Muslims refer to the architectural elements and historical sources to justify their position.
In 2014, local government made a decision to demolish the building, despite many years of requests from local muslims. The decision caused protests by muslim community. Local muslims who gathered near the building, were dispersed and physically abused by the police and local government. 14 Muslims were arrested. (Read the detailed description of occurrences in Mokhe village in TDI’s statement)
In December 2014, the State Agency for Religious Issues established “the commission for determining the origins of the “village club building” located in municipality of Adigeni, village Mokhe” (hereafter, the Commission). The commission is composed of representatives of local government, Muslim and Christian communities. Zaza Vashakmadze, the head of the State Agency for Religious Issues is a chairman of the commission. Despite the requests of muslim population, entrusted members of muslim community, representatives of NGOs and even Public Defender were rejected to be members of the commission. The Agency denied the request of public defender to participate as an observer in the Commission.
The Commission is totally ineffective body. From the day of its establishment, it has not reached any of the intended goals. It also has not taken any essential step for determining the origins of the building and solving the problem. Except from that, work of the Commision is nontransparent and the State Agency does not provide information about its activities to the public.
According to the Agency’s annual report 2015, the Commission members gathered three times during the reporting year. The Commission states, that the ‘deescalation of the process’ in the local community demonstrates its main achievement.
Since the day of establishing the commission, it became clear that by shifting the issue into political dimension, the state intended to procrastinate and veil the problem, in order on the one hand, to avoid the responsibility on existing problems and on the other hand, to prove its loyalty to the GOC.
It should be noted, that since 2012 discrimination and persecution of Muslims by the government has become the systematic problem. On the one hand, the State does not react to the violations of Muslims’ rights, does not act according to the law and does not carry out an effective investigation. This means, the State avoids fulfilling its positive obligations, demonstrates discriminatory treatment towards the Muslim community and thus, fosters further violence and intolerance. On the other hand, in multiple cases (Chela, Mokhe, Adigeni) the State itself was involved in the persecution of Muslims. Moreover, high-ranking officials of the government often express islamophobic attitudes and favor the dominant religious group.
Apart from this, the government promoted those persons who participated in the persecution of Muslims. For instance, Gela Kokhodze, the law-enforcement officer who had expressed conspicuously aggressive attitudes towards Muslims during the occurrences in the villages of Chela and Mokhe, was promoted to Chief of the Mokhe Police Department in 2015. Also, the ruling party “Georgian Dream” introduced Giorgi Kopadze as a majoritarian candidate in Akhaltsikhe and Adigeni municipalities for 2016 parliamentary elections. In 2013 Giorgi Kopadze was leading the demonstration organized against Muslims in Adigeni and was protesting the return of the minaret that had been dismantled by the state.
Few days after the October 8 Parliamentary elections and receiving the majority of votes, the government demonstrated its power against Muslims once more and pursued its discriminatory policy.
Based on the above-mentioned, TDI addresses
The Government of Georgia:
Adequately and fairly evaluate the cases of persecution of Muslims and observe religious neutrality;
Timely, effectively and fairly ensure the return of the property confiscated during the Soviet period to religious organizations
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 alleged instances of physical violence committed by the representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs against the Muslims in Samtatskaro, Chela and Mokhe villages.
Local Government of Adigeni Municipality
- To stand by the principle of religious neutrality and ensure exercise of religious freedom for all citizens.