Violence and homophobia at IDAHOT rally results in two priest arrests

By Cathy Kristofferson, May 23, 2013

tbilissi-359x361Last Saturday we reported IDAHOT Around the World | The good, the bad, and the ugly . In the Ugly category we listed the riot that ensued  in Tbilisi, Georgia when thousands of anti-gay protesters, including Orthodox Church priests, united to descend upon an International Day Against Homophobia rally in Freedom Square.

Today charges were actually filed against two of the priests that were caught on camera participating in the mayhem, including the stool wielding priest pictured here.  Georgia is a highly religious nation so this move to hold them accountable for insighting violence is highly unusual. reports:

“Iotam Basilaia, the father superior at the Iione-Tornike Eristavi Monastery, and Antimoz Bichanashvili, an arch-priest at Tbilisi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, are charged with defying police orders and preventing citizens’ rights to free assembly. The two men may face a fine or even a prison term.”

georgiaPreviously four other protesters had been detained and released after paying fines for ‘hooliganism’ and defying police orders.  Reports were that no one expected any action to be taken against the priests.  Now the Georgian LGBT community’s safety could depend on the government’s willingness to proceed with the prosecutions.

Irakli Vacharadze, the executive director of Identoba, a non-governmental LGBT group that was one of the rally’s main organizers reported that “We face an ongoing threat. Members of the LGBT community are being repeatedly harassed because the authorities’ failure to stop the violence has created a sense of impunity for the radicals.”   There have been eight separate reports of violence following the attempted IDAHOT  silent march.

Photo by Reuters David Mdzinarashvili
Photo Reuters David Mdzinarashvili

At least 28 people were injured at the attempted rally, with many of them trapped in public transportation as demonstrators attacked. Police helped but the Ministry of Internal Affairs failed to secure the participant’s freedom to assembly and the the rally site.

The country of Georgia is one of the few from the previous Soviet Union to provide LGBT rights and protections.  Since 2000, Georgia has had ‘the freedom of same-sex sexual activity’ and six years later added job protections for sexual orientation.  In 2012 Georgia added sexual orientation to those considered an ‘aggravating circumstance’ in hate crimes.

The Church had previously condemned the violence but reiterated their dismay that the rally took place.  Now the Georgian LGBT community will wait to see the outcome of today’s arrests and what impact that could have on their continued safety.

However the Georgians may be better off then the Ukrainians.  In that ex-Soviet nation, without any LGBT rights or protections, a Kiev court has just banned the first ever Gay Pride ‘Equality March’ planned for Saturday, ostensibly “to ensure public order and protect people’s lives and safety”…

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