On 28 February 2014, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, held a meeting at Columbia University as a part of his visit to the United States. After delivering a speech, Gharibashvili responded to the questions from the audience. A Columbia University alumna, Angela Willer, asked Gharibashvili about LGBT rights and added that while being in Tbilisi last year, she witnessed an incident against homophobia and Western values. According to Willer, not everybody shares Western values in Georgia, especially the Georgian Church, which is supported by about 80% of the population. She asked the Prime Minister whether or not a new human rights strategy elaborated by the new government will address the rights of the LGBT community as well.

According to Gharibashvili’s response to the abovementioned question, together with the human rights strategy, the Government of Georgia is planning to adopt an antidiscrimination law as well that will address these issues. The Prime Minister explained that there is enormous work to do in this respect but added that not a single country is perfect and similar things [homophobic attacks] can happen everywhere. As Gharibashvili put it:  “Every year, in 2011, 2010, 2009, LGBT rallies were being pursued and the police could do nothing to protect them. This was the only case without any incidents, injuries or attacks.” Gharibashvili added that he was personally involved in protecting these people.

FactCheck

looked deeper into the demonstrations against homophobia held in Georgia and analysed the events in their chronological order.

The term LGBT is an abbreviation standing for the English words:  lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. In use since the 1990s, the term is an adaptation of the abbreviation LGB.

The webpage of the human rights organisation, Identoba, informs that 17 May is the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia being celebrated since 2004 in a number of countries. Based upon the data of Identoba, every third lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender has become a victim of physical violence at least once during the last two years in Georgia. About 56% of these people have been suppressed at least once by family members, 26% were married by force and 18% were forbidden to contact friends. In addition, transgender people are still not able to change their gender in their identification cards. For this purpose they are asked to have an expensive hormone therapy although the law does not require any such thing. Being coerced to have surgery is a gross violation of human rights.

17

May is merely dedicated to the aforementioned problems by uniting to protest the violence against these people. For more accuracy, let us follow the events in their chronological order.

The first rally against homophobia and transphobia was organised by an organisation called LGBT - Georgia

on 17 May 2011. At 9:00 pm around 40 activists lit candles inside colourful flowers and set them onto the River Mtkvari, this way honouring the memory of victims of homophobia and transphobia. The demonstration went smoothly without any incidents. This was an official LGBT street rally in Georgia.

The second similar demonstration was supposed to be organised by the Identoba, organisation for human rights, on 17 May 2012 near the Tbilisi Concert Hall. A letter addressed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia describes at length and in details the events that took place on 17 May 2012. In short, Identoba notified Tbilisi City Hall about the peaceful rally in advance and demanded that safety precautions be taken by the Department of Internal Affairs of Old Tbilisi. After getting approval from City Hall, Identoba contacted a representative of the Department of Internal Affairs of Old Tbilisi, Giorgi Choghoshvili, who was directly responsible for the security of the rally. He verbally agreed with the office manager first and then afterwards with the lawyer of the organisation that the patrol police would stand by the demonstrators on 17 May and detain anyone assaulting the participants – at least in defence of verbal assaults.

Based upon the aforementioned letter, on 17 May activists approached the Tbilisi Concert Hall to have a peaceful rally. Members of the Orthodox Parents Union and the Union of Saint King Vakhtang Gorgasali first appeared at Kostava Avenue and did not let the activists move forward in their intended direction. They were accompanied by clergymen and their parish members who were particularly aggressive and verbally assaulted the demonstrators. The letter also reports that the patrol police officers did not interfere in anything despite the fact that they heard all the verbal assaults directed towards the activists. In addition, the members of the Orthodox Parents Union were violating public order, besieging the activists and not letting them walk freely. When the demonstration approached the building of the Academy of Sciences, members of the Orthodox Parents Union

attacked the demonstrators with swear words and threats and seized the banners and tore up their flags. At this very moment, patrol police officers suddenly disappeared and this further escalated the situation. The counter protesters saw there was no one to stop them and proceeded to beat the activists without mercy.

Since the situation was completely uncontrolled, representatives of Identoba called the emergency line of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (112) three times in a short time period. However, the police arrived to the crime scene only after 20 minutes. They started to regulate the situation only after the raid became massive. Nevertheless, instead of the offenders, the police arrested three Identoba staff members and one organisation member (they were bounced out the police cars an hour later). After the abovementioned events, the rally activists left the place and the incident was over. Overall, the rally organised by Identoba did not take place.

Identoba addressed the Ministry of Internal Affairs with a complaint about the aforementioned issues and asked for the launch of an investigation. The Ministry responded that the patrol police officers and the representatives of the Department of Internal Affairs of Old Tbilisi did not observe any illegal acts on 17 May 2012; therefore, no investigation would be carried out. However, they observed incidents when citizens violated the law at the rally. According to Article 166 of the Administrative Code of Georgia, two citizens were detained and sentenced to administrative punishment of a fine of GEL 100.

The events of 17 May 2014 were reflected in the annual report of the Public Defender of Georgia. The report admits that the law enforcement agencies did not take respective measures to ensure the safety of the rally activists.

As for the demonstration of 17 May 2013, it was also planned by Identoba at 13:00 in front of the old Parliament building. Based upon the experience of the previous year, when as reported by Identoba, they were not given any chance to hold a rally, while the police did nothing to protect them, the aforementioned organisation published a Code of Conduct for the rally participants describing in details the rules all the participants had to observe.

As the representatives of Identoba explained to FactCheck,

the respective units (Tbilisi City Hall and the Ministry of Internal Affairs) were notified about the demonstration in advance. Furthermore, they received safety guarantees from the Ministry. However, just as in the case of 17 May 2012, in 2013 as well they were not given any opportunity to have the demonstration. The events of 17 May 2013 were arranged in the following order:

A peaceful demonstration of about 500 people against homophobia and transphobia was supposed to be held in front of the old Parliament building by 13:00. The demonstration was organised by Identoba.

It was planned to last for 30 minutes during which the participants would protest with silence the violence towards LGBT people. On 16 May, clergymen and their parish members occupied the territory near the old Parliament building and protested against the planned demonstration. They called on the organisers to cancel the rally for the following day.

On 17 May the counter protesters against the aforementioned rally started gathering around the old Parliament building from the morning with various banners (displaying “The Lord Reigns,” “Remember Noah”) proclaiming their intent against the rally. At the same time, part of the police officers blocked the road in front of Freedom Square to enable the rally at Pushkin Park. The demonstrators against homophobia and transphobia started to gather around 12:00.  Concurrently, the city’s yellow public transit busses started to be mobilised at Freedom Square.

The counter demonstrators gathered in front of the old Parliament building were joined by Basil Mkalavishvili with his parish members. At about 12:45, they broke the police barrier and started to move towards Freedom Square. The clergymen were leading the counter demonstrators with the proclamations to disrupt the LGBT rally. In the end, that is exactly what happened. The counter protesters clashed with the LGBT rally activists in Pushkin Park which then led to physical violence. The counter demonstrators used force to stop the rally. The situation was practically uncontrolled. Overall, the peaceful rally against homophobia and transphobia of 17 May 2013 planned by the human rights organisation Identoba was not held. More than 30 people were injured as a result of the clashes.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs formally charged two clergymen without detention for homophobic violence – the Archimandrite of the Trinity Church, Anthimoz (Tamaz) Bichinashvili, and the Abbot of the Ioane-Tornike Eristavi Convent, Iotham (Irakli) Basilaia. The abovementioned clergymen were charged with violating the right of manifestation and interference with the use of violence. The investigation was launched based upon Paragraph 1 of Article 161 of the Criminal Code of Georgia. Additionally, the police detained four civilians who were sentenced to administrative punishment of a fine of GEL 100 on 21 May.

Factcheck

got in touch with Irakli Vacharadze, Director of Identoba, to inquire about the events of 17 May. According to Vacharadze, the former Minister of Internal Affairs, Irakli Gharibashvili, was simply lucky that day as the incident ended without casualties and not thanks to the police officers mobilised at the place of the event. The police seemed to do absolutely nothing. Vacharadze added that the police could not protect the constitutional rights of the activists and could not hold back the aggressive groups directed against the peaceful protesters. As stated by Vacharadze, there are video tapes displaying that not only were the police not trying to stop the counter demonstrators but, in fact, they cleared the road for them.

The Public Defender of Georgia also commented on the events of 17 May with an official statement. The statement admits that despite the fact that the Ministry of Internal Affairs was informed in advance about the aforementioned peaceful rally, and the police officers were mobilised in the centre of the events, the police cordon could not stop the attack. The Public Defender also commented on the matter of injured persons including the police officers.

The international community also responded to the aforementioned events. EU Special Adviser on Constitutional and Legal Reform and Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, made the following statement:  “What happened was absolutely inadmissible; I think the response of the government was insufficient.”

Conclusion

The research around the 17 May events identified the following aspects:

The first demonstration against homophobia and transphobia in Tbilisi was organised in 2011 by the organisation LGBT – Georgia. The rally proceeded peacefully without any incidents.

The second similar rally was organised by the organisation Identoba on 17 May 2012. The rally was accompanied by confrontations and acts of physical abuse.

The third rally against homophobia and transphobia which was held in Tbilisi on 17 May 2013has also been planned by Identoba and other NGOs. Similar to 2012, cases of physical confrontation were witnessed at this rally as well.

Taking into consideration all of the aforementioned it becomes obvious that the Prime Minister’s assertion about the chronology of the LGBT demonstrations is inaccurate. No demonstrations of a similar nature took place in Georgia throughout the years 2009 and 2010. The first LGBT rally was indeed organised in 2011 and this date is correctly indicated by Gharibashvili as well, but the rally went peacefully and no cases of confrontations were reported. Therefore, the Prime Minister’s allegation about the violence towards the activists witnessed at the demonstration of 2011 is also false. As for the demonstrations against homophobia held during the years 2012-2013, they were accompanied by confrontation and injuries were sustained. Consequently, Gharibashvili’s statement claiming that the case of 17 May 2013 “was the only example when no one was injured or attacked” is clearly wrong.

Therefore, FactCheck concludes that Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement:  “Throughout the years 2011, 2010 and 2009, during such LGBT demonstrations in Georgia, they were continually being persecuted and the police could do nothing to protect them. This case was the only example when no one was injured or attacked,” is MOSTLY FALSE.

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