Key Developments on Religious Freedom in 2019
December 10 marks the International Human Rights Day. On this occasion we overview some of the key developments in the area of freedom of religion or belief and the rights of religious communities in Georgia in 2019:
In 2018 two important decisions were made by the Constitutional Court of Georgia on the claims of religious organizations: the court declared unconstitutional the provisions of the Georgian Law on State Property and the Tax Code, which unlike the Georgian Orthodox Church, created discriminatory conditions for all other religious organizations. However, despite the Court’s rulings, in 2019 the Georgian Parliament did not express any will to amend the legislation and to grant equal rights to religious organizations. Read more.
The adoption of a special law on religion and religious organizations was actively discussed during the year. The majority of human rights and religious organizations consider the adoption of such law unacceptable as it poses a high risk to create a more discriminatory environment for religious communities and to limit their religious activities and rights. See the statement of the Council of Religions under the Public Defender of Georgia.
On September 30, Batumi City Court ruled on the case of Batumi new mosque construction. The court ruled that Batumi City Hall’s refusal to issue a building permit for the construction of a new mosque is discriminatory and unlawful. Local Muslims have been trying to build a mosque in Batumi for many years, but have faced numerous unlawful obstacles and discrimination by the state. Read more.
The issue of restitution of historical buildings confiscated during the Soviet period to religious communities remains unresolved. The Armenian Apostolic, Catholic, Evangelical-Lutheran churches, the Muslim and Jewish communities have not received their historical property back. In this respect, state policy towards non-dominant religious organizations is discriminatory. See more on seized religious buildings.
The fate of the historically Armenian “Tandoyants Church” in Tbilisi, located on Aghmashenebeli avenue, has remained unresolved this year. In 2017, the state transferred ownership rights of the building to the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church without examination and evaluation of the Church’s history and confessional affiliation. Read more.
The establishment of a human rights department at the Ministry of Internal Affairs shall be assessed positively. The department oversees the investigation of hate crimes. As a result, the quality of investigations has improved and the qualifications of investigators working on similar cases have increased. However, it is still problematic for the prosecution to grant the status of the victim and to bring charges against the perpetrators, as well as to convict the perpetrators on the grounds of religious intolerance.
As of November 2019, according to the information provided by the Christian Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20 criminal offenses have been committed against Jehovah’s Witnesses on the basis of religious intolerance, - 11 cases of physical violence, 5 cases of damaging religious buildings and vandalism, 4 cases of interference in religious services and damage of religious literature.