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The News in Brief

Monday, October 26
Orthodox Cleric, Three Others Cleared of Charges Related to 2013 Homophobic Violence

A priest from the Georgian Orthodox Church and three other men were acquitted on Friday on charges that they disrupted an anti-homophobia rally in Tbilisi city centre on May 17, 2013.

After a two-year long trial, the court ruled on October 22 that the father superior at the Ioane-Tornike Eristavi Monastery, Iotam (Irakli) Basilaia, as well as Beka Salukvadze, Tariel Davrishiani, and Giorgi Basiashvili were not guilty of impeding the right of assembly with the use of force for a small group of activists, who wanted to to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17, 2013.

The intended small anti-homophobia rally was violently attacked by thousands of counter-demonstrators, who were led by Orthodox clergy and who easily broke through police cordons.

Father Iotam was among them; he was chasing gay rights activists with a stool in his hand – an image that became a source for numerous cartoons and Internet memes. He was also captured on video slamming that stool into the front window of a bus, which was evacuating activists from the scene of the disrupted anti-homophobia rally.

The Tbilisi City Court said that there was lack of cumulative evidence to prove the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Prosecutor’s Office did not respond on October 23 to questions whether it would appeal the verdict to a higher court.

Magda Kalandadze, who was one of the participants of the attacked anti-homophobia rally, told Rustavi 2 TV outside the court building after the ruling was delivered that with this verdict “we – those people who were there and who suffered physical, psychological persecution – are again told ’nothing happened that day and the people who chased you to kill you are innocent’.”

Initially, along with priest Iotam (Irakli) Basilaia, another Orthodox cleric, Antimoz (Tamaz) Bichinashvili, was also charged on May 23, 2013. Bichinashvili was captured on video from the May 17 developments, swearing and shouting as the crowd was moving violently towards the gay rights activists: “We will kill you”. During the early stages of the court proceeding, judge dropped charges against him, citing a lack of evidence.

Three young men and a16-year-old boy were arrested by the police on May 19, 2013; they were fined by the court with GEL 100 each and released after they were found guilty of petty hooliganism in connection with the May 17, 2013 violence.

Interior Ministry imposes round-the-clock monitoring on the territory around Rustavi 2 building

The Interior Ministry has imposed round-the-clock monitoring on the territory around Rustavi 2 building. The Interior Ministry of Georgia plans to install surveillance cameras in the vicinity of the Rustavi 2 building, said Tea Pertaia, the head of the MIA Social Relations Service, adding that patrol police officers will continuously patrol the area.

“On the basis of operative-searching measures conducted by the State Security Service Counter-Intelligence Department, an investigation has been launched according to the first part of the article #315 of Georgia’s Criminal Code which refers to arranging a coup aiming at deposing the government.

“Taking the present situation into account, the Interior Ministry will take special measures in order to provide security for our population. Surveillance cameras will be installed in the vicinity of the Rustavi 2 building, and the area will be patrolled around the clock. Patrol police officers will continuously patrol the area, in order to avoid expected provocations and provide security of citizens including the TV Company staff,” Pertaia said.

No jail for smoking marijuana: Georgian Constitutional Court delivers historic verdict

People in Georgia will no longer be jailed for using marijuana after the country’s Constitutional Court has announced an historic verdict.

The Court ruled that Georgia’s marijuana law needed to be relaxed after discussing and upholding a claim by Georgian citizen Beka Tsikarishvili on October 25.

Tsikarishvili, who was detained for the purchase and possession of 65 grams of marijuana in June 2013, challenged the norm of the Georgian marijuana law which claimed a person should be jailed for seven to 14 years if he or she was found with large amount of marijuana. The same law determined 50 to 500 grams of marijuana as "large amount”.

The Constitutional Court said this punishment was "inappropriately strict” for smoking cannabis and that cannabis users and cannabis dealers should not be punished the same way.

Although Tsikarishvili possessed a "large amount” of marijuana, the Court did not find any evidence that he intended to sell it.

The Court called on the country’s lawmakers to create specific criteria, which would help judges figure out whether a person was a marijuana dealer or they possessed cannabis only for personal use. If the latter was confirmed, then a prison sentence would be an inappropriate punishment for them, the Constitutional Court ruled.

Meanwhile Tsikarishvili’s charge was followed by the society’s protest against strict marijuana laws last year. A group of local artists, actors, singers and others began a campaign called ‘Beka is not a criminal’. The group published video clips, blogs and posters online demanding marijuana become legal.

Two major rallies were held to protest the country’s strict drug laws for the past two years in Georgia.

The rally organisers wanted marijuana decriminalised; although yesterday’s court decision did not decriminalise cannabis (this was not even the subject of discussion), legalisation supporters were still satisfied and assessed the verdict as a "huge step forward”.