The controversy around the Orthodox Church-run Ninotsminda orphanage took a new turn yesterday, as the Public Defender’s Office cited reports from prosecution and the Interior Ministry that four criminal cases related to the orphanage have opened since 2016. Three of them involve allegations of violence against minors and one of the alleged rape of a minor. The victims reportedly approached law enforcement only after leaving the institution.
The orphanage in the country’s south houses around 50 children and is supervised by Bishop Spiridon, who has twice refused to permit the Public Defender’s monitoring visit to the foster home. “Allowing the office, that demands legalizing same-sex marriage in Georgia, inside the [foster] home and near the children [would be] a severe wrongdoing,” Bishop Spiridon said on April 17, two days after the initial refusal.
Later in a May 14 sermon, Bishop Spiridon issued insulting remarks against Public Defender Lomjaria, calling her “blind and deaf.” “Who are you supposed to [monitor], you do not even know whether you are a man or a woman,” the Bishop added, addressing the Ombudsperson.
The initial refusal had prompted the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to call on the Georgian authorities to ensure the monitoring, but the Public Defender’s Office was still barred from entry later on May 19. The government has not yet taken measures to allow the Public Defender’s monitoring visit.
Ombudsperson Nino Lomjaria said on June 2 that the last time the monitors visited the orphanage was in 2018. Even then the foster home attendants forced the monitors to leave the institution after the latter tried to interview the children individually, Lomjaria noted.
Besides the criminal investigations, Public Defender’s Office has cited two assessments by a state regulator since 2017 that found the orphanage fails to comply with regulations on protecting the beneficiaries from infectious diseases, organizing food rations, allocating leisure hours, and the limits on the number of beneficiaries per room.
Meri Maglaperidze, Head of the Agency for State Care said on June 2 her office was also barred during June 2020 – April 2021 period from inspecting the foster home, with orphanage employees citing COVID-19 safety. The doors of the institution have been opened for us since, she added.
Maglaperidze recalled that of the four criminal probes, two were launched as per the Agency’s request. The incidents concerned violence by two other beneficiaries against the minors, not by the establishment representatives, she clarified.
Orthodox Church responds
The Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) issued a brief statement today calling on the Interior Minister to publicize details on the ongoing investigations “so that nothing is hidden” and to avoid “speculations” on the possible incidents.
Previously, Bishop Nikoloz Pachuashvili of the Akhalkalaki, Kumurdo, and Kars Diocese, which also includes Ninotsminda town, discussed the issue with Rustavi 2 TV late on June 2.
He said that Bishop Spiridon could have “his own arguments” for refusing the monitoring visits. Bishop Pachuashvili maintained however that it should be up to the courts to decide whether Bishop Spiridon was entitled to refuse the monitoring.
He claimed that the Ombudsperson tried to portray the alleged incidents as proven facts, before the investigations have been concluded and the court has delivered its rulings to see if the rape and violence actually took place. Still, the Bishop said he can try to facilitate for Ombudsperson Nino Lomjaria to enter the establishment, only if she “has not already written down [possible] violations she has not yet seen [in advance].”
Parliament Vice-Speaker Archil Talakvadze asserted today that the Public Defender’s Office is entitled by law to enter any establishment housing minors, and expressed his hope that the issue will be resolved through “communication” with the GOC. “I’m convinced that the Patriarchate has nothing to hide,” he stressed.
United National Movement’s Khatia Dekanoidze slammed the authorities for being “indifferent” about the “alarming” developments surrounding the orphanage. She called on PM Irakli Garibashvili, Prosecutor’s Office, and other relevant agencies to “take measures” to tackle the possible violence against minors.
Elene Khoshtaria of the Droa! Movement meanwhile called a rally outside the Prosecutor’s Office for today evening. She said the people must protest “every day until we rescue these children from captivity.”
“What is happening at the Ninotsminda [Orphanage] is only the tip of the iceberg,” stated Zurab Japaridze, Girchi – More Freedom leader. He argued that the GOC has “under current leadership developed” into a non-transparent institution that also wields political power.