U.S. State Department: Religious freedom still a problem in Georgia
The U.S. Department of State’s annual report, which provides an account of human rights and religious freedom conditions in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, dedicates 13 pages to Georgia.
According to Georgian experts, it gives a rather critical assessment of the situation in Georgia, pointing to the fact that religious minorities are facing harsh conditions in the country.
Although the Constitution of Georgia provides for ‘complete freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and equality for all regardless of religion, the laws and policies grant the Georgian Orthodox Church privileges not accorded to any other religious groups’ – reads the document.
As is pointed out in the report, when it comes to the restitution of the buildings confiscated during the Soviet era, the government demonstrates favoritism towards the Georgian Orthodox Church, while other religious groups don’t enjoy the same rights. It provides an example of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which has been requesting in vain the restitution of three churches in Tbilisi and one-in Akhaltsikhe (Samtskhe-Javakheti region).
The report also covers 19 cases of crimes committed on the basis of religious intolerance, which, according to the NGOs and the Georgian Ombudsman, are not being investigated ‘properly’.
The document also focuses on reports about violence against religious minorities. In particular, the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 11 physical assaults on its members.
The fact that the government opened the first Muslim prayer house for members of the armed forces is regarded as progressive. However, as is also pointed out in the report, only the Georgian Orthodox Church continues to have chapels in prisons and that remains a problem.
The report also draws attention to the cases of damage done to Georgian Orthodox Church objects and restriction of performance of religious rites in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As reported, the Georgian Orthodox Church clergy were not permitted to conduct religious services in Abkhazia.
The report covers the period of 2016. The report for 2017 will be published next year.