Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) is studying the facts of violence against Muslims and the existing situation in Adigeni village. On March 1, TDI lawyers arrived to the village and met with the representatives of local community and self-government bodies. Lawyers listened to their opinions and collected explanations from the victims.
Issue of the Muslim Cemetery
In May, 2015 Muslim community collected signatures and applied to Adigeni Gamgeoba with the request of allocating separate territory for the Muslim cemetery. On February 26, 2016, State Agency for Religious Issues gave Gamgeoba the recommendation of allocating up-mentioned territory.
As a result of interviewing the locals by TDI, it became clear that the problem started few years ago when it became impossible to find a spot for the deceased person on the existing cemetery. The reason is that the Muslim religion doesn’t allow Muslims to be buried next to the people with different religion. But as there was no cemetery separately, the family had to bury the deceased in a different region. To be noted, Muslim community represents around one fifth of the population in the village.
After this case, Muslim community has been asking for the territory for the cemetery constantly, in order to be able to perform their religious traditions and rituals duly.
Violence against Muslims on February 29
On February 29, 2016, in order to discuss this issue, Zakaria Endeladze – Gamgebeli of Adigeni, along with the two deputies and several public servants met with the Muslim community representatives in Adigeni village. Parties agreed that a new territory for the cemetery with a common use would be allocated but it would be separated in a way that Muslims would be able to bury their deceased separately according to their faith, religion and denomination.
While one of the Muslim community representatives was expressing his opinion, unexpectedly young Orthodox Christians in two cars arrived at the place and attacked Muslims.
Initially, the aggression was directed towards Roin Iakobadze, Muslim community representative who was actively involved in preparing documents regarding the cemetery and was defending the Muslim community rights. As the representative of Muslim community L.I. has stated in his/her explanation, young people were clearly drunk and were verbally insulting Roin Iakobadze. One of the persons, Lasha Kometiani was calling other Christians for stoning him [Roin Iakobadze].
In the interview with TDI, Iakobadze’s spouse mentions that if not an active mobilization of Muslim youth and protecting him from the attackers with a live chain “he was doomed for death”. The clash continued approximately for 10-15 minutes and two Muslims who were trying to protect Iakobadze received visible injuries on their bodies. Iakobadze himself, was hospitalized due to a heart attack.
Muslims who were questioned, specified that each of them, including women, were insulted verbally during the meeting. Precisely, attackers were swearing and using Islamophobic language.
Participation of the Gamgebeli of Adigeni Municipality in the discussion of the issue
Members of the Muslim community questioned by TDI representatives underline the biased approach of Zakaria Endeladze - Adigeni municipality Gamgebeli. According to A.K., Gamgebeli was informed that the Christian youth were drunk on that day and there was a risk of escalation of the situation. They asked Endeladze to postpone the meeting, however the request was not taken into consideration.
D.A. pointed out with TDI, that the meeting of the Muslim community with Gamgebeli took place in the street - the place, where usually local youth are gathering. According to local Muslims, even the minimal security measures had not been ensured. Discussion of such issue should have been taken place in a calm and working environment rather than a street. Muslims also notified TDI, that Gamgebeli could have played a significant role to neutralize the situation, however, he did not act this way. On the contrary - when the situation became extremely tense, Gamgebeli left the territory and came back only after the ambulance arrived to assist the injured Muslims.
Muslims also find it suspicious that Gamgebeli who was witness of obvious violence, did not inform police or took any other legal measures. According to the abovementioned circumstances, representatives of the Muslim community have suspicion that Zakaria Endeladze encouraged the Christian population with his inactivity and attempted to score political points among the Orthodox people.
During the conversation with TDI lawyers Zakaria Endeladze noted that the best solution to solve the problem is a mediation with participation of Muslim and Christian representatives and making a decision acceptable for all parties. The Gamgebeli is not speaking about the violence that took place on February 29 and the necessity of relevant investigation.
Zakaria Endeladze has not been questioned as a witness by the law-enforcers.
Description of actions taken by TDI Lawyers in Adigeni village and legal assessment of the situation
On March 1, when the lawyers of the TDI were talking to the victim Avtandil Iakobadze in his house, three men (Orthodox as it was identified later) entered the building. One of them acted aggressively towards the lawyers and others, tried to hinder TDI lawyers while performing their professional duties and demanded from them to leave the place immediately. As there was a great danger that the conflict would aggravate, it became necessary to inform the police. The members of the police who were in the place, withdrew intruders from the territory. Despite the efforts of the police, the abovementioned man went back into the house and “warned” Muslims: “either the lawyers go or the situation will aggravate”. It is unknown what he meant under the “aggravation of the situation”, but it was obvious that near the house of the victim, the group of local Christians was mobilized.
On March 1, about 100-150 people, both Orthodox and Muslims, gathered Adigeni village. The way between them was blocked by the police.
TDI lawyers also interviewed seven Christians. Some of them drastically opposed the idea of giving a separate cemetery to Muslims. For them, satisfying this demand for Muslims seemed dangerous - “Today they require the cemetery, but who knows, maybe tomorrow they will require the mosque. My child is growing up, I want him to be Christian, as well. They are also Georgians, they should read history… Let them make another cemetery and we, Christians, will leave this place”.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the investigation has launched with the first paragraph of Article 156 (persecution of a person based on his/her opinion, view, conscience, religion, or his/her political, public, professional, religious or scientific affiliation) of the Criminal Code of Georgia.
TDI considers that the first paragraph of Article 156 does not envisage performing violent action and the latter is defined under the second paragraph of Article 156 (the same act committed violently or by a threat of violence). In this case, as the witnesses inform, the people who stormed the place of meeting on 29 February, committed the acts of physical violence and also threatened that they would continue behaving the same way in future. TDI considers that it is necessary to adjust the qualification.
On March 1, the lawyers of TDI and EMC, in order to defend the interests of the witnesses, attended the process of questioning at the Adigeni Regional Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. 4 Muslims were questioned on that day.
TDI considers, that during the investigation significant breach of law did not take place, however because of the problems that have been observed, there is a ground to raise doubt about the justness of investigation. While the lawyers were attending the process of questioning, the policemen brought another ten Muslims, in order to question them too. As the quantity of the lawyers was enough to attend only two questionings at the same time, the police, supposedly, aimed to question the witnesses without their defenders.
Upon the request of TDI’s lawyer, the questioning of other witnesses was postponed till February 2. TDI’s lawyers are staying in the village Adigeni, attending the questioning process, advocating the rights of victims and continuing to the study the situation.
During the questioning at the police department on March 1, violation in the acts of law-enforcers has not been observed by TDI, however soft attitude of police officers towards the incident of 29 February was still notable.
At the same time, TDI considers it alarming that some police officers made discriminatory comments during interpersonal conversations. For example, one police officer indirectly told to the representative of Muslim community that “who does not know Georgia’s history, he must not be living in Georgia”. After the request to explain his comment, the policemen responded that he said this “not as a policeman, but as a man”.
To be noted, until this moment, none of the persons were granted the status of victim. Also, it is disturbing that medical examination of victims has not been conducted yet, while, the examination must be conducted instantly so that the injury is assessed properly. Therefore, all the above-mentioned rises a reasonable doubt that the state doesn’t have the will to investigate the facts timely and objectively like other facts of Muslims’ obstruction.
TDI lawyers are staying in Adigeni village, continuing to study factual circumstances and observing the situation.