Why a church orphanage has sparked outrage in Georgia
Testimony of a former student of Ninotsminda orphanage
Nine activists were detained by the police and two were injured during a protest in front of the prosecutor’s office in Tbilisi on June 3. The protest broke out after Public Defender Nino Lomjaria released a statement alleging that child abuse and rape had taken place in the orphanage run by the Georgian Patriarchate in Ninotsminda, Georgia.
During the protest, Formula TV news channel interviewed a former pupil of this orphanage, who shared his own account of the dark and criminal events that he had witnessed while living in the orphanage.
Why has the orphanage sparked outrage?
A boarding school for orphans in the town of Ninotsminda, Samtskhe-Javakheti region, is run by the Georgian Patriarchate. The administration of this orphanage prohibits visits of human rights defenders, representatives of Georgia’s Public Defender’s Office and even state social workers.
“These people are demanding the legalization of same-sex marriage. They should not be allowed into orphanages or any family in general”, said Bishop Spiridon of Shalta.
Public Defender Nino Lomjaria said that her office requested information from the general prosecutor’s office about the ongoing investigation of four alleged cases of child abuse in the orphanage.
Lomjaria said one of these cases concerns the alleged sexual assault of a minor. Bishop Seraphim Jojua who was accused of raping a minor in 2017 frequently visits the Ninotsminda orphanage, and he even held a service there on International Children’s Day.
The Ombudsman’s office has already been repeatedly refused to entry and the possibility to conduct an assessment of the house. It has been reported that the boarding house’s staff was acting upon the orders given by a high-ranking clergyman, Archbishop of Skhalta, Vladyka Spiridon, the current head of the boarding house.
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Protest have been going in Tbilisi over the past few days with banners that read: “Open the doors of the boarding house”, “Punish the offenders”, “Save the children from captivity”, “The clergy cannot escape responsibility”.
Late in the evening of June 3, the situation escalated after opposition politician Yelena Khoshtaria tried to break the police cordon and enter the prosecutor’s office to ask him about the case directly.
The police did not allow her to enter the building and completely dispersed the rally. Nine of its participants were detained. Five were later released on bail and the rest were transferred to a temporary detention center.
During the arrest, activist Gigi Makarashvili’s arm was broken.
Another activist, Niki Parulava, now has a fracture in the arm bone and multiple bruises all over his body.
Testimony of a former student of Ninotsminda orphanage
In an interview with Georgian Formula TV channel, a former resident of the orphanage said that about 10 years ago, one of the boarding school teachers beat a seven-year-old boy to death.
He explained that after the incident, the deceased was taken away, but the police never came to the scene. After spending 15 years in a boarding school, he says that his caregivers “must go to hell”:
“We were in the yard, and one boy ran up to the girls, he was 6-7 years old. The guardian tore out all of his hair, started beating him, and did not stop until the child died. But this incident remains uninvestigated. Someone came, but it was not the police. They covered the body with cellophane and took him away”.
Ninotsminda orphanage graduate says that he has both witnessed and experienced humiliation and cruel treatment.
“There was bullying, we were beaten with sticks, rakes, whatever the teacher was holding. They wear their [church] clothes and say that they believe in God, but in reality, this place is a real hell. If we didn’t go to bed during the day, we were blindfolded and forced to lie down. We were punished for any disobedience, for not bowing to teachers.
I tried to escape from there at least 90 times. There were about forty of us who wanted to either start a riot or run away. But in the end, it was only two of us left, the rest were very afraid that they would be killed and did not want to repeat the fate of that boy”.
Most politicians and civil society representatives joined the protest
All significant nongovernmental organizations and political groups have joined the demand for the authorities to take immediate action and have the monitoring group of the Ombudsman enter the boarding house.
The largest opposition party, United National Movement, addressed the authorities with a direct appeal to immediately take adequate measures.
The Lelo for Georgia party stated that the inaction of the authorities in regards to the events in the children’s boarding school in Ninotsminda is criminal.
Authorities say the investigation continues
Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Archil Talakvadze told reporters that he “very much hopes that the Patriarchate has nothing to hide” in regards to the Ninotsminda boarding house.
“I expect that this issue will be coordinated between the Patriarchate and the parliamentary committee on human rights. The parliament will do its best to reach an agreement on this issue”, Talakvadze said.
Aluda Gudushauri, a representative of the ruling Georgian Dream party, made a counter claim to the Public Defender:
“We are talking about serious allegations including rape. If the Public Defender has had such information all this time, why did she not talk about it before? But of course, this does not mean that there is no need to take active measures now”.
On June 3, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that an investigation has been launched against a boarding house in the city of Ninotsminda under Article 126 of the Criminal Code, which concerns the facts of violence.