The undersigned organizations express our concern about the revealed facts of intolerance regarding the opening of boarding school for Muslim students in Kobuleti. At the same time we urge the government to implement immediate and effective measures to restore the violated rights of the Muslim community as well as the right to freedom of religion and the right to education.
The boarding school launched for Muslim students in Kobuleti should have started to operate on September 15. However, after the violent and abusive act that occurred on September 10, the functioning of the boarding school is impeded. Organized group of local residents, who have imposed permanent duty, blocked the entrance to the yard of the boarding school with artificial barriers and restricted the movement of staff and students of the boarding school.
They verbally insult Muslims on grounds of Islamophobia and Turkophobia, block roads in an organized way for those wishing to enter the boarding school and compel them to refuse to enter the school by using physical force. According to the explanation by the Muslim community, drinking water was also blocked for the boarding school. The mobilized group stated that the local Christians will not allow the opening of the boarding school and indicated the risks of violent confrontation. The police have been mobilized at the place of confrontation; however, their role is limited to being passive observers and they do nothing in order to prevent explicit illegal behavior of local residents. In these conditions, students enrolled in a boarding school were allocated in an old building of the boarding school in Kobuleti which is accepting twice as many beneficiaries this time. As a result, children have to live in poor living conditions.
Similar to the police, Kobuleti municipality is also inactive since it has not ensured connecting the boarding school to the sewer system for approximately two months. The municipality is explaining its inactivity by resistance from local residents. In this regard, statements made by the local government in the media are noteworthy, where it confirms its open loyalty towards the majority. In order to solve the conflict ongoing negotiations between the representatives from the government and the parties have not been completed. According to the explanations by the Muslim community, they are not planning to give in to the demand of the opening of the boarding school, the government is offering them unacceptable alternatives and this has not led to achieving any results of the negotiations.
According to our evaluation, the government policy to eliminate religious violence revealed in Kobuleti is ineffective and leads to severe criticism due to the following reasons:
- By referring to possible provocation, the government is trying to cover up the real picture of the religious conflict and those reasons which cause religious hatred and violence in the society. Similar to other cases (Nigvziani, Tsintskaro, Samtatskaro, Chela), the analysis of religious aggression revealed in Kobuleti illustrates that the confrontation is communal by nature and caused by intolerant, Islamophobic, Turkophobic attitudes in the society. Ineffective government policy towards offenses motivated by hatred and its unjustifiable loyalty towards dominant religious groups during religious confrontations lead to the increase of violence and the incitement of extremism in the society;
- Ritually slaughtering a pig by the boarding school of Muslim students on September 10 and nailing a pig’s head to the door of the school, which assaulted the whole Muslim community, require timely legal response from the state and punishment of appropriate persons. A specific group of local residents started the persecution of boarding school staff prior to the September 10 incident and it was expressed in the form of verbal abuses of Muslims and halting the construction of the boarding school. The events of September 10 were the most blatant manifestation of hatred and persecution. The corpus delicti provided for in Article 156 of the Criminal Code (persecution) is very obvious in the actions to be reviewed. Despite the factual circumstances, which were confirmed by the Muslims’ explanations, the investigation is applying incorrect classification (Article 151, the Criminal Code, threat) to the action. Persons participating in the September 10 incident as well as possible organizers of the group are still continuing to violate the rights of the Muslim community and the state is doing nothing to retain those risks coming from them. Despite the signs of religious persecution, at this stage only three persons are deemed responsible for the actions under Article 166 of the Code of Administrative Violations (minor hooliganism) and each of them have been sentenced to a fine of 100 GEL;
- It is significant for the police to take all necessary measures to prevent local residents’ interference in the functioning of the boarding school. The police tolerate the illicit de facto control imposed on the territory of the boarding school by the dominant group and they do nothing to restore the violated rights of the Muslim community. According to the sub-paragraph b of paragraph 2nd of Article 17 of the Law on Police, the police are required to prevent interference in the use of immovable property. The police have not yet fulfilled this obligation imposed by the Law since they do not respond to the restriction of freedom of movement of owners of the building as well as the facts of impeding the entry of minor Muslims into the boarding school against the will of the owners of the building. It is noteworthy that the gathering of local residents by the building of the boarding school, which is followed by permanent restriction of the rights of others and threats of violence, passes the scope of freedom of peaceful assembly and requires adequate legal response and prevention by the state;
- It is essential that the conduct of local government officials is placed within the framework of secularism and that they abstain from unjustifiable support towards the majority and the violation of the principle of religious neutrality;
- In order to solve the conflict the ongoing negotiations between the government representatives and the parties have not yet been effective. In order to ensure procedural fairness of the negotiations, it is significant that the government ensures publicity of the process of negotiations and participation of neutral actors who have faith in human rights and equality. It is essential that the process of negotiations is conducted in compliance with the principles of freedom of religion, equality and tolerance so that the dispute is not resolved at the expense of suppressing rights of minority.
The undersigned organizations once again express solidarity with the Muslim community and urge the government to implement effective and fair policy in order to protect rights of minority.
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI)
Media Development Fund (MDF)
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Transparency International Georgia (TI)
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)
Article 42 of the Constitution