NGOs make a joint statement about the events that took place yesterday in the village of Samtatskaro and call on the authorities to take effective steps immediately to ensure the safety of the local Muslims and to regulate the conflict.
As made clear by the video footage disseminated by media outlets and by the information we received from the Muslim community, on June 28, 2013, after the traditional prayer of the Muslims (Jummah) was over, a group of the local population (about 200 people who identify themselves as members of the Christian parish) attacked the house of a local Muslim clergyman (Hoca), Suliko Khozrevanidze, threatening his family with expulsion from the village, stoning, and burning of the house. The aforementioned group invaded the yard of Suliko Khozrevanidze’s house and physically assaulted his wife, Emine Khozrevanidze, to which the victim directly indicates in the video footage (https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ci0yZtSKISE). The interview given by Suliko Khozrevanidze to a journalist of the Information Center of Kakheti reads:"We went there to pray. No one said anything to us. After 6 o’clock, people rushed to my house; they came right to the door. They threatened us with eviction, and now they have sent me word that I won’t be able to send the cattle to the pasture tomorrow, that they won’t let us use water, and that we won’t be able to go out to a shop. They are telling us to move away from here within 24 hours.”According to the information at our disposal, the police did not detain a single offender on the ground. As the Mufti of the Qvemo Kartli region, Jemal Adadze, has explained to us, today, on June 29, several local Christians spoke to Suliko Khozrevanidze again and prohibited him from taking part in the prayer and receiving Muslim worshippers from other villages. According the Mufti, due to the threats of violence that were made, Suliko Khozrevanidze was forced to agree with the demand of the village population.
As made clear by the statements of the victims and the village trustee, Gulnara Nadirashvili, the aggression of the local Christians was caused by the fact that the Hoca and his sons took part in the Friday prayer and this prayer was attended by Muslim worshippers who had come from other villages.
It should be noted that since June 14, when the State Minister for Reintegration, Mr. Paata Zakareishvili, visited the village of Samtatskaro, and May 24, when the first precedent of a joint prayer was allowed, May 28 was the first occasion when the joint prayer was attended by local Muslims. Specifically, the last Friday prayer was attended by six Muslim worshippers who had come from other villages and four local Muslim worshippers. According to the Mufti, Jemal Adadze, the representatives of the administration had come to Samtatskaro to support the local Muslims and to overcome the fear that had arisen after the conflict. It should be noted that the traditional Friday prayer of June 21 was attended only by worshippers who had come from other villages and the local Muslims had not taken part in it. As the Mufti explains, the local Muslims were permanently subjected to pressure and threats, due to which they refrained from taking part in the joint prayer. At the time of the joint prayer on June 21, the local Christians were near the house of worship and, to avoid their aggression, the local Muslims did not attend the prayer. That the local Muslims were subjected to pressure is also confirmed by one of the Muslim ladies living in Samtatskaro who directly indicates to a fact of pressure on the local Muslims by the population and the village administrator.
The events that have developed confirm that there is a hotbed of religious conflict in the village of Samtatskaro and that the local Muslims are under pressure and oppression. And the Hoca of the village, Suliko Khozrevanidze, and his family have been victims of threats, insults, and aggression all this time. The causes of the conflict and detailed assessments of the role of the State in these processes are presented in joint statements that we made previously.
The existing grave situation obliges the State to take timely and effective steps to ensure the safety of the local Muslims and to regulate the conflict. Otherwise, there are risks that the conflict will deepen further and spread to other settlements of this type. Based on all the aforementioned, we believe that:
- The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia and the Office of the Chief Prosecutor of Georgia must investigate all the crimes that have become known in the village of Samtatskaro since May 24 in a timely manner and hold all the offenders responsible. In this respect, the incident that involved the attack and threats against Suliko Khozrevanidze’s family and the physical assault on his wife is particularly noteworthy. This incidentpresumablycontains signs of threatening (Article 151 of the Criminal Code of Georgia), illegal interference into performing religious rite (Article 155 of the CCG), persecution (Article 156 of the CCG), encroachment upon inviolability of house or other possession (Article 160 of the CCG), and hooliganism (Article 239 of the CCG). When making a legal assessment of the acts that were committed, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of Paragraph 31of Article 53 which considers the commission of a crime with the motive of religious intolerance as an aggravating circumstance;
- The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia must intensify measures for ensuring public order in the village of Samtatskaro and, in the case of identifying an offence, prevent such a fact in a timely manner and hold the offenders responsible. At the same time, it is necessary to take special measures to protect Suliko Khozrevanidze’s family who are still threatened and under pressure;
- The State must respond in a timely manner to actions of representatives of the local government who are parties to the conflict and obviously exceed the limits of their competence with their actions;
- The Government of Georgia must develop a unified policy with the aim of regulating religious conflicts on the basis of the principles of justice and freedom of religion.
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Transparency International – Georgia (TI – Georgia)
Article 42 of the Constitution
Media Development Foundation (MDF)