Georgia's Pentecostals Threatened With Death

Monday, June 16, 2003

New violence part of apparent government sanctioned crack down

By Stefan J. Bos
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

TBILISI, GEORGIA (ANS) -- Pentecostal Christians in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia are not allowed to gather for worship amid death threats, while a Baptist church was set on fire amid a government backed crack down against religious minorities, reports suggested Monday June 16.

The Forum 18 News Service (F18News), which monitors religious persecution, said young men blocked a Pentecostal church in the capital Tbilisi for seven hours Sunday, June 15, as police watched and refused to intervene.

"We will do everything to prevent you from meeting. We won't stop still there's blood," Vera Kalutskaya, wife of the pastor, quoted members of the mob as telling the Pentecostals. "The police just stood and watched - they didn't defend us."


The blockade of "self-appointed Orthodox vigilantes" came the same day that a Baptist church was set on fire in the village of Akhalsopeli in Kvareli district of eastern Georgia, possible by Orthodox elements F18News reported.

"The walls survived the fire, but the interior has been reduced to ashes," Emil Adelkhanov of the Centre for Peace, Democracy and Development told F18 News.

Authorities have also halted Jehovah's Witness conventions in central and southern Georgia in recent weeks and reportedly used in some cases police units dressed in camouflage outfits, armed with machine guns.

Kalutskaya told F18News Monday, June 16, that the Russian-language church had organized a special service and meal to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. She said that although there was no actual violence, the mob shouted and threatened to beat and "even kill her" husband, Pastor Nikolai Kalutsky. "But he's not afraid," she added.


Vera Kalutsky said demonstrators arrived in about a dozen vehicles at about 9 am and left at 4 pm. One of the young men admitted that the protest was organized by an Orthodox priest, Fr David, she said.

He was described as one of two Orthodox priests who led a mob against the Pentecostals last year and accused them church of being Satanists. The U.K. based Keston Institute reported last year that the Pentecostals were told to "go back to Russia" and not meet again.

"They didn't care if you were old or young - they even beat pregnant women." Vera Kalutsky, who was among the injured people, said at the time.

But police chief for the Tbilisi district of Gldani-Nadzaladevi described Sunday's demonstrators as "just local residents," who he added had every right to protest against Pentecostals.


"They meet in a private home in a narrow street. They shouldn't meet there. Their services disturb the neighborhood as several hundred people attend and make lots of noise," he was quoted as saying.

But Kalutskaya denied those charges saying that the "church meets in our yard, half below ground," and that neighbors "cannot hear anything in our yard, let alone on the street."

Georgia has been plagued by violence against religious minorities from self-appointed Orthodox vigilantes in the past few years, who appear to enjoy powerful support from the authorities. No-one has been convicted and imprisoned for any of the more than one hundred violent attacks.

One of the most notorious organizers of the attacks, Old Calendarist priest Father Basil Mkalavishvili, has gone into hiding to evade arrest F18News said. The Georgian Orthodox is the most powerful denomination in the country, and has expressed concern about the many new churches that mushroomed since the break up of the Soviet Union in December 1991.