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US State Department on Religious Freedom in Georgia

By Tea Mariamidze
Thursday, August 17
The United States (US) Department of State has released its annual report on the religion freedom, which mentions Georgia as well.

The report reads that although the Georgian Constitution provides for “complete freedom of religion,” the separation of church and state, and equality for all regardless of religion, the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) is privileged in the country.

“Laws and policies grant the Georgian Orthodox Church privileges not accorded to any other religious group, including legal immunity for the GOC Patriarch and a consultative role in education,” the report says.

It also reads that during the year, the government investigated 19 cases involving alleged crimes committed on the basis of religious intolerance.

“Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) reported a lack of effective investigations into crimes motivated by religious hatred remained a major problem,” the document says.

The report also reads that despite the announcement of the government of Georgia that the first Muslim prayer house for members of the armed forces would be opened, only the GOC has chapels on military bases and in prisons.

Moreover, the document says that NGOs and minority religious groups also expressed continued concern over what they said was favoritism towards the GOC in the restitution of buildings confiscated by the state in the Soviet era, and said the government continued inadequately to address acts of religious intolerance and discrimination in favor of the GOC in public schools.

The US Department of State says that there were reports of violence against religious minorities. The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 11 physical assaults on its members.

“The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers continued to meet regularly with senior government officials, including SARI leadership, the prime minister’s adviser for human rights and gender equality, and the president’s adviser for minority issues, to encourage dialogue between the government and minority religious groups,” the report says.

The document also stresses that restrictions continued on religious activities in Georgia’s regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which remained outside the control of the central government.

According to the report, the de facto government authorities in the Gali district of Abkhazia reportedly did not permit GOC clergy to conduct religious services in any of the four GOC churches and ethnic Georgians were unable to attend services in their own language.

“Individuals living outside Abkhazia and South Ossetia reported continued difficulties crossing into these territories, including for the purpose of visiting the gravesites of family members,” the US Department of State noted.