Anti-gay protesters, led by Orthodox priests, easily pushed their way through police cordons and moved towards the Freedom Square to thwart a rally marking the International Day Against Homophobia in Tbilisi on May 17, 2013. Photo: Guram Muradov/Civil.ge
A priest from the Georgian Orthodox Church and three other men were acquitted on Friday on charges that they disrupted anti-homophobia rally in Tbilisi center on May 17, 2013.
After more than two-year long trial the court ruled on October 22 that father superior at Ioane-Tornike Eristavi Monastery, Iotam (Irakli) Basilaia; Beka Salukvadze; Tariel Davrishiani, and Giorgi Basiashvili were not guilty of impeding right of assembly with 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 front window of a bus, which was evacuating activists from the scene of disrupted anti-homophobia rally.
The Tbilisi City Court said that there was lack of cumulative evidence to prove defendants’ guilt beyond the reasonable doubt.
Prosecutor’s office did not respond on October 23 to questions whether it would appeal the verdict to 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 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 footage from the May 17 developments, swearing and shouting as the crowd was moving violently towards the gay rights activists: “We will kill you.” At the early stage of the court proceeding, judge dropped charges against him, citing lack of evidence.
Three young men and a 16-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 to the May 17, 2013 violence.