Georgia: "No Action" In Wake Of Attack on Pentecostals

Saturday, August 4, 2001

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Members of the Word of Life Pentecostal Church, human rights activists and some politicians have complained about the failure of the police or prosecutor's office to take any action so far in the wake of last month's attack on a Word of Life service in a cinema in the centre of the Georgian capital Tbilisi. The mob raid - the latest in a long series of attacks on minority religious communities dating back to 1999 - was led by Basil Mkalavishvili, a defrocked priest of the Orthodox Church who enjoys de facto immunity from prosecution for his violent raids. (see KNS 26 September 2001) "We have not arrested Mkalavishvili," the duty police officer at the Mtatsminda-Krtsanisi district police told Keston News Service on 11 January. "Why should we?" His boss, district police chief Togo Gogua, confirmed later in the day that his officers had not arrested anyone in the wake of the latest attack. "I'm not the procurator and I'm not the judge. An investigation is underway," Gogua declared. "They must be arrested," the church's pastor insisted to Keston. "It's not a question of religious freedom but of hooliganism. Such hooligan gangs should not be allowed to exist."

The 150-strong Word of Life congregation - one of ten congregations in Georgia linked to the Swedish-based Word of Life Church led by Ulf Ekman - does not have its own church building and rents the Iveria cinema on Tbilisi 's central Rustaveli avenue.

Mkalavishvili and some fifty supporters descended on the cinema as the 23 December morning service was ending, the church's pastor Mamuka Jebisashvili told Keston from Tbilisi on 10 January. "They came in, ringing bells, and proceeded to beat, break and steal during the 25-minute attack." The mob severely beat two church members - Kakha Chkhaidze and Badri Machitashvili, though several other men - including Ramaz Jeladze, Georgi Machitadze, Jemal Sakuashvili and Vazha Jabanishvili - and women - including Endi Mamatelashvili - were also beaten. The attackers broke the sound system, stole church money, a Yamaha synthesiser and personal handbags, and seized and tore up religious books, including copies of the Bible.

Jebisashvili told Keston that the police were summoned by the cinema security staff - one of whom was also severely beaten by the attackers - and that they prevented the attackers reaching a smaller room where the church's Sunday school was being held. However, he said they had not come into the main hall.

Emil Adelkhanov of the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Development and Democracy told Keston that the attackers also broke the camera of a reporter from the Ajaria television company who was filming the attacks. Nevertheless, both Ajaria and another TV station Rustavi-2 showed film of the attacks later in the day.

Jebisashvili was adamant that Mkalavishvili had planned and directed the raid, although he said he had not himself entered the cinema. "Mkalavishvili stood outside above the cinema on the street and directed the raid from outside the whole time," Jebisashvili told Keston. "After it was over he went up onto Rustaveli where he prayed and held a demonstration."

Two church members had to seek treatment at the Aramyan hospital for their wounds. "When they found out the two were members of our church the doctors said their wounds were not serious," Jebisashvili reported. "They said it was just a nervous manifestation. We had to treat them at home."

Jebisashvili said the police took statements from some church members and that Major Vazha Nachkebia of the local police had told him that they had started a case. Gogua of the district police told Keston that the investigation had been handed to an investigator at the city level, but he did not know his name or his phone number although he promised to find out.

Manuchar Tsimintia, a Tbilisi-based lawyer who represents the Jehovah's Witnesses and has had contact with Word of Life since the December attacks, believes Mkalavishvili's participation in the latest raid violates the terms of his police surveillance ordered by a court last summer as part of a separate criminal case against him (see separate KNS article). "He was put under supervision and pledged to behave himself. He has clearly violated this by carrying on organising these attacks," Tsimintia told Keston from Tbilisi on 11 January. He would like Word of Life to join a legal complaint he intends to lodge on behalf of the Jehovah's Witnesses next week to have Mkalavishvili arrested immediately.

Although Mkalavishvili has been defrocked by the Orthodox Patriarchate and is now a priest of a different Orthodox jurisdiction, there are many who believe his actions have strong support within the Patriarchate. "Be it known that some sectarians, Pentecostals, Charismatics and Disciples of Christ, hold their meetings at the Iveria cinema," the Patriarchate's press centre warned on 12 August last year. "Be it known that everyone who attends them destroys his own soul and is doomed to eternal torments."

Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.