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Mob violence mars LGBT events

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, May 20
The rally planned for an internationally recognized anti-homophobia event by the NGO Identoba on May 17 turned violent.

More than 2,000 police officers– most of which unequipped to deal with such a large crowd– had been deployed to prevent clashes between the small contingent of LGBT demonstrators and several thousand counter-demonstrators. However, members of the church supporting counter demonstrators group broke through the police cordons and physically assaulted the LGBT representatives. In order to ensure the security of the rally participants, Special Forces transported them to an alternative location, mainly out of the capital via mini-buses.

LGBT supporters stated that they wanted to dedicate 30 minutes to the day against homophobia and create a flash mob on this date. However, several thousand angry Georgians gathered to protest the event, stating that it was simply sinful propaganda and the wrong style of living.

Various statements were made concerning the issue. It can be said that public were divided into several groups: one that was satisfied with the outcome of the rally and the shameful violence against the LGBT members, those who were satisfied with the meaning behind the rally, but did not justify the violence and those who condemned the violence altogether.

The Prime Minister of Georgia stated that Georgian police did its best to avoid the complications. Ivanishvili stressed that the right to gather peacefully and to freely express one's opinion is fundamental to Georgian democracy and that “every Georgian citizen benefits fully and equally from this right. Acts of violence, discrimination and restriction of the rights of others will not be tolerated.”

Parliament Chairman Davit Usupashvili called on the protestors, police and society to keep order and stability and behave within the frames of law.

According to Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, the police failed to maintain public safety for the gay rights activists. The same sentiment was expressed in the joint statement made by six other NGOs: Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association; Transparency International Georgia; International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy; Georgian Democracy Initiative; Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center and Article 42 of the Constitution). According to them, the police was mainly focused on the safe evacuation of the LGBT supporters rather than protecting their rally.

President Mikheil Saakashvili condemned the violence and suggested that government’s policies were contributing to the increase in all kinds of violence in the country. The president directly accused the current Georgian government in encouraging the violence.

However, analyst in public issues Khatuna Lagazidze states that the April 17 events and provocations were staged by the United National Movement.

Businessman and one of the representatives of the group supporting the demonstration against the LGBT rally, Levan Vasadze, stated that through these actions, the people showed that Georgians would never allow the supremacy of depravity in the country and that Georgians will always support their religion, inheritance and values.

EU ambassador to Georgia, Philip Dimitrov, stated that he was “disappointed that this right of expression was violently blocked today by counter demonstrators.”

Thomas Hammarberg, the EU's special adviser for legal and constitutional reform and human rights in Georgia, has appealed Patriarch Ilia II to use his influence to restore respect for law and order on the Tbilisi streets after violent actions against LGBT society. The situation that took place in Georgia on April 17 turned “unacceptable and shocking” for Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans.

“We have distance from violence,” Patriarch Ilia II declared. However, referring to gay rights rally, he stated: “It’s something that should not be propagandized.”

“We should know that this is a sin before god. We can express our sorrow without interfering in anyone’s private life,” Patriarch Ilia II stated and appealed to people to go home and pray for one another.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has started an investigation into Friday’s unrest. Meanwhile, two protest rallies took place in front of the State Chancellery on Saturday where the NGO Civil Front demanded a ban of sexual minorities’ propaganda by law, while a group of people protested against the violence that took place against LGBTs the day earlier. Stressing that everybody has the right to reject what they do not like, but without any violence and demanded punishment of the people who committed violence, as well as those who encouraged them.