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Two priests to face criminal charges for May 17th incident

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, May 24
Two priests were criminally charged on Thursday in connection with the incident that took place on the Day Against Homophobia on May 17th when the gathering was disrupted by the counter-demonstartion on Rustaveli Avenue.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affiars (MIA), the investigation was launched under Article 161(Encroachment upon Right to Assembly and Manifestation), part I of the Criminal Code of Georgia against the Archimandrite of Sameba cathedral church, Father Anthimoz (Tamaz) Bichinashvili and Father Superior of "Ioane Tornike Eristavi convent", Father Iotam (Irakli) Basilaia.

The Secretary of Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II Archpriest, Mikhael Botkoveli said that in response to the charges of the two priests, their guilt should be properly defined. “Is it guilt if they were simply running?” he said wondering if swearing is also a criminal offence.

Archipriest Botkoveli said earlier on Wednesday evening that the Georgian Patriarchate expresses its grief towards the consequences of anti-homoprhobic rally organized by Identoba on May 17th.

Stressing that in a country like Georgia where the majority of the population follows a traditional religion, Botkoveli said on behalf of the Patriarchate that such rallies are perceived as propaganda of homosexualism and cause public unrest.

Discouraging legalisation for “a sin”, the Patrairchate also separated it from the violence; stating that he found the anti-homophobic rally scheduled by Identoba “provocative.”

Botkoveli said the aggressive activities are beyond the legal and religious norms and added that the Patiacrhate expressed regret that some members of the clergy were also engaged in the process and damaged the name of the entire church.

“But without the effort of the majority of the priests during the May 17th events and loyalty of the police officers, the result might have been worse,” he stated.

The number of people who have signed the petition addressing the President, Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Chairman to punish the violators on May 17th events reached 15, 000. By stressing that minority groups are equal in the eyes of the law, those who signed the petition claimed the confrontation was inspired by the Georgian clergy and their supporters, thus demanding that every violator is punished to avoid the threat of “religious fundamentalism and theocracy.”

Human Rights Protector, Giorgi Gabedava thinks the MIA’s decisison to charge the priests is the result of pressure from the local NGOs and international organistaions. He said no one is hiding from the law, but suggested that first of all it is necessary to commence an investigation against the members of Identoba to find out who these people are and what motives they have.

After returning from Istanbul earlier this week, the Catholicos-Patrairch appealed to everyone at St. Trinity Cathedral that only love and generosity can cure evil.

According to the MIA, the investigation into the incident that took place on May 17th is still in progress. The criminal charge against the two priests involves illegally impeding the right to assembly and demonstration with use of force or threat of force and carries either a fine and/or imprisonment for two years.

However, no particular verdict has been made yet.