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Gay Rights Group Warns of Rise in Homophobic Attacks

Tbilisi-based gay rights group said on Monday that impunity of perpetrators, three days after an attempted anti-homophobia rally was violently disrupted by Orthodox clergy-led crowd, gave rise to cases of attacks on gay people or on those perceived by perpetrators to be homosexuals.

Meanwhile, EU’s human rights adviser in Georgia, Thomas Hammarberg, said on Monday that his impression was that the authorities were taking investigation of the May 17 violence “very seriously” and added: “I believe that steps will be taken very soon.”

Identoba, the group which was one of the organizers of the intended anti-homophobia rally in downtown Tbilisi on May 17, said on Monday that “inactivity of the government” to bring before justice perpetrators in the May 17 events, “encourages further violence and criminal acts.”

“Security of the LGBT individuals is still at high risk in the streets of Tbilisi and other public places,” Identoba said, listing several homophobic incidents that took place after the May 17 violence in downtown Tbilisi.

In one case, reported by Identoba, a man became a victim of attacks at three different occasions at various locations in Tbilisi between May 17 and May 19 and in one incident “his hair was set on fire” by attackers.

The Georgian authorities said that investigation was launched into the May 17 violence. But no one has yet been charged and no arrests have yet been made.

Chief prosecutor, Archil Kbilashvili, said on May 19 that results of the investigation would become known to the public in the nearest future.

Thomas Hammarberg, who was appointed by the European Commission as the EU’s Special Adviser for Legal and Constitutional Reform and Human Rights in Georgia in February, 2013, said on May 20 he was “saddened” by the May 17 developments.

Hammarberg, who was Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner in 2006-2012, is advising Georgian state institutions on issues including judicial, legal and constitutional reforms, as well as on law enforcement, the penal system and human rights.

He told journalists on May 20, that what happened on May 17 was “not a victory for anyone in the country.” He also said that it would be difficult for him to explain to the outside world “how it could happen in this democratic country.”

“But I will point at some positive factors as well, because there were some,” Hammarberg said and noted PM Ivanishvili’s written statement in which he condemned the violence and vowed to bring perpetrators before the justice.

“The statement by the Prime Minister was courageous, principled and very timely. That showed leadership when it was needed,” Hammarberg said.

He also said that he had no role in this statement and it was PM’s own initiative. “I talked with him the day after and he made clear that it was his own very strong feelings and he actually did it just by himself,” Hammarberg said.

He also welcomed that the violence was condemned by the major political forces and added that it made him believe that steps “which will be taken in order to restore justice, will not be politically controversial.”

“And I hope it won’t be controversial also within rest of the society, including the Church,” Hammarberg said and referred to the statement by a high-ranking Orthodox cleric, Bishop Jakob, who said on Sunday that the Church was not against of investigation and “it won’t be difficult” for those priests, who might have committed “misconduct”, to face “secular justice.”
 
“I am confident that within the Church itself there will be some discussions about what really happened and how this could be avoided in the future,” Hammarberg said, adding that he had offered the Patriarch to meet him when he visits Georgia next time in June.

Parliament Chairman Davit Usupashvili said on May 20 while commenting on this issue: “No one has the immunity [from prosecution], including representatives of any religion… Clerics themselves have stated it; they believe that if someone exceeded [in actions] and have problems with the law, they are ready to be held responsible.”

Commenting on investigation into the May 17 violence, Thomas Hammarberg said he was not aware about the details, “but I have a very clear impression that it’s taken very seriously in the Ministry of Interior and I believe that steps will be taken very soon.”

On police actions during the violence, Hammarberg said that although he was not present on the scene, “but my impression from what I’ve heard and seen on the footage is that there were moments when the police were overwhelmed” by the number of anti-gay protesters.

He also said that if not the police, consequences could have been even worse.

“My own reaction is that it would not be fair to put the major blame on the police in this situation. The problem was rather with counter demonstrators and those who instigated them,” Hammarberg said.

Some civil society groups have criticized the police of a failure to prevent the violence and concentrating more on safe evacuation of anti-homophobia rally participants rather than focusing on preventing angry mob from approaching the rally.

“The negative image of Georgia that came out of the events of 17th of May in the streets here is there, but I will be able to tell the outside world that there are positive moves also in this country, where very difficult issues are discussed in the democratic spirit,” Hammarberg said, referring to ongoing public discussions over labor code amendments, as well as on steps to tighten measures for preventing illegal surveillance by the security agencies and on initiative to set up a state commission to study miscarriages of justice.

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