Statement on the accusation against Muslim religious leaders
On 1 May, residents of Mushevani village in Bolnisi municipality clashed with the police and emergency ambulance crew. According to reports, they did not allow to transport infected citizens to a hospital. On 2 May, Director of National Center for Disease Control Amiran Gamkrelidze visited Marneuli. Talking about the Mushevani incident at a meeting with local authorities, he said that political processes could be behind the incident and accused Muslim religious leaders of orchestrating the clash: “We were informed that their mullah and mufti have played a negative role”. As the local religious leader said, he has nothing to do with the incident and cannot understand why he was accused.
Later, Gamkrelidze explained that he meant the need for religious leaders to help them more educate and explain the current situation to the ethnic minorities: “It has never been difficult for me to apologize and I can apologize if I have said something like that. If this is the phrase that I used, I apologize for that.”
Since 23 March, Marneuli and Bolnisi municipalities have been declared a strict quarantine zone and restriction was imposed on the entry to and exit from these municipalities. Once the quarantine was declared, hate speech and xenophobia intensified against ethnic Azerbaijani residents of Kvemo Kartli. Local population has found itself in a grave social and economic crisis.
Regarding Muslim clerics, it must be emphasized that they displayed a high sense of civic responsibility immediately after the spread of a new coronavirus: they have banned gatherings in prayer houses across the country, urged the population to observe recommendations issued by the State and offered help to socially vulnerable people.
Muslims are systematically discriminated in Georgia. The state is rudely interfering in the autonomy of the religious community and instead of protecting their rights, view them from the standpoint of security. Several weeks ago, the State Security Service summoned the Sheikh at the Supreme Spiritual Administration of Georgian Muslims, Mirtagi Asadov, for questioning and initiated an investigation into alleged sabotage. This is yet another proof of the State's attitude towards Muslims.
We call on the government of Georgia:
- To pursue a policy based on inclusion, equality and integration;
- To stop discrimination against Muslims and build the policy upon fundamental human rights instead of security;
- To ensure timely and proactive informing of ethnic minorities about epidemiological situation and safety rules, especially in regions of their compact settlements.
- It is important for government representatives as well as epidemiologists to refrain from making unfounded statements that provoke intolerance on ethnic/religious grounds. Such rhetoric stigmatizes ethnic and religious minorities and stirs up xenophobic attitudes in the society.