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Georgia: Authorities slammed for not protecting Tbilisi gay-rights march

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — At least 12 people, including three policemen and a journalist, were hospitalized when a small gay-rights march in Tbilisi, Georgia, marking International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia was attacked by a large anti-gay mob — led by priests — hurling rocks and eggs, The New York Times reports. 

“They wanted to kill all of us,”  Irakli Vacharadze, the head of Identoba, the Tbilisi-based gay rights advocacy group that organized the rally, said in an interview with The Times.

Vacharadze told The Times that Georgian Orthodox Church priests spearheaded the charge that breached a "heavy" police line. “The priests entered, the priests broke the fences and the police didn’t stop them, because the priests are above the law in Georgia,” he said in the report that noted that march opponents, mostly young men, also carried banners that read “No to mental genocide” and “No to gays.”

When police began herding marchers onto minibuses to get them out of the area, their attackers attempted to break the windows with metal objects, rocks and their fists, The Times says.

If the buses hadn't been nearby, "we would all have been corpses," the report quotes the group's lawyer, Nino Bolkvadze, as saying.

In a telephone interview from a safe house, Bolkvadze told The Times that riot police were unprepared, showing up without helmets or the "right equipment."

While Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili condemned the violence in a news release on Friday, advocacy groups like Amnesty International say authorities did not do enough and were "woefully unprepared" to protect marchers in light of advance announcements that counter-demonstrations were being planned, as well as past incidents of violence and "virulent" opposition.

“Ironically this shameful violence marred a day that is meant to mark solidarity in the face of homophobic violence around the world, and it shows that the Georgian authorities have a long way to go to promote tolerance and protect LGBTI people and their human rights,” John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia program director at Amnesty International (AI), said in the aftermath of the most recent attack.

According to AI, Orthodox Church authorities accompanied, and seemed to encourage, those who attacked the marchers. A number of media reports last week also noted that the church's highest authority, Patriarch Ilia II, called on the authorities to ban the march, saying it would be "an insult" to Georgian tradition.

“It is becoming a dangerous trend in Georgia to condone and leave unpunished the acts of violence against religious and sexual minorities if they are perpetrated by the Orthodox religious clergy or their followers," AI's Dalhuisen said. "It is simply unacceptable for the authorities to continue to allow attacks in the name of religion or on the basis of anyone's real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity."

"By failing to take effective measures and hold these accountable to justice, the Georgian authorities are allowing the intolerance and impunity to grow and fester. They must improve their policing of peaceful demonstrations in future and ensure that this is not allowed to happen again,” Dalhuisen said.