Gunfire damage to Jehovah's Witnesses' Assembly Hall in Zugdidi
On November 16, representatives of the Christian Group Jehovah's Witnesses found one of the walls of their Assembly Hall had been shelled with bullets. The incident took place in Upper Etseri village in the Chkhoria territorial authority of Zugdidi Municipality. According to representatives of the religious organization, no one was inside the building at the time of the gunfire.
Goga Berulava, a representative of the Christian Group Jehovah's Witnesses, told Transparency International Georgia that they had informed the local police about the incident on November 16. Another representative of the organization, Manuchar Tsimintia, said that law enforcement officers have started looking into the case, however, he does not have any information as to how this offence will be classified under the Criminal Code. Religious community representatives urge the police to conduct a prompt investigation of the case and take necessary security measures. The Interior Ministry states that an investigation has already been launched under article 187, part 1, of the Criminal Code, which deals with causing serious damage or destruction to an object with intent.
According to Manuchar Tsimintia, the lawyer representing Christian Group Jehovah's Witnesses, the construction of the Jehovah's Witnesses Assembly Hall was finalized in the second half of 2013 - a month and a half prior to the incident. Mr. Tsimintia said there had been no conflict during the construction period and the construction process was peaceful. He added, however, that certain problems emerged while constructing another Assembly Hall in previous years.
The incident to which the lawyer refers occurred near Ingur Paper Manufacturing Plant in November 2009: two constructions were being carried out at the same time in Queen Tamar Street in Zugdidi – David the Builder Church and a Jehovah's Witnesses Assembly Hall, this resulted in a protest by members of the clergy and parishioners from the Orthodox church. In addition, the local residents had collected thousands of signatures and appealed to the government to terminate the construction of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious building.
Transparency International Georgia urges the Interior Ministry to conduct a thorough and timely investigation of the incident in Upper Esteri village of Zugdidi municipality. We believe that an effective investigation into the facts and exposure of the suspects would serve as a preventive measure against crimes of this kind.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed both under the Georgian Constitution and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Subsequently, any religious persecution, restriction or discrimination of any kind of people under religious grounds shall be condemned. Article 9 of the Georgian Constitution clearly stipulates that the state declares complete freedom of belief and religion - hence, Georgian citizens must respect representatives of all religions and refrain from extremist acts. Law enforcement officers have a crucial role at this stage in protecting religious freedom and provisions of the constitution. It is of utmost importance that the law enforcement agencies ensure they conduct an investigation to maximum effect and without delay as well as administering proper punishment to the culprits.