Joint Statement of NGOs on Violations of Rights of Muslim Community in Kobuleti

The below signatory organizations would like to reiterate our concern over the acts of intolerance related to the opening of a boarding school for Muslim students in Kobuleti. We also urge the authorities to take immediate and effective measures for restoring rights for the Muslim community, including right to religion and education. 

The launch of the boarding school for Muslim students in Kobuleti was scheduled for September 15 but was disrupted by a violent and abusive incident of September 10. An organized group of locals, who are taking turns guarding the scene of the incident, have blocked entrance of the boarding school with artificial barriers, hindering the movement of boarding school employees and students. On Islamophobic and Turkophobic grounds, they verbally insult Muslims, boarding school visitors, blocking their way in an organized manner every time and forcing them violently to go back. As the Muslim community explained, they have even cut off the boarding school’s supply of drinking water. The group mobilized at the scene who identify them as local Christians, say that they will not allow opening of the boarding school, indicating risks of violent confrontation. Police has been mobilized at the scene of confrontation but their role is limited to that of a passive observer, without doing anything to put an end to the clearly illegal actions of the local population. Under the circumstances, students who have been admitted to the boarding school were placed in the building of old boarding school in Kobuleti, doubling the number of its beneficiaries. As a result, students are forced to live in poor conditions. 

Similar to the police, Kobuleti Municipality is not taking any actions in response. For over the period of two years the municipality did not provide the boarding school with a connection the sewage system, stating resistance of the local population as the reason for its failure to act. Notably, local authorities have made statements in media reaffirming their loyalty to the majority. 

Negotiations between the authorities and the parties involved, with the aim of resolving the conflict, are still ongoing. As Muslim community explains, they are not going to cede their demand to open the boarding school, while the authorities offer alternatives that are unacceptable to them. Therefore, negotiations have not yet yielded any results. 

We believe that policy pursued by the authorities for elimination of the religious violence in Kobuleti is ineffective and worthy of harsh criticism for the following reasons: 
- the authorities point out possible provocation in an attempt to hide the actual picture of religious strife and the reasons behind  religious hate and violence in the society. Similar to other incidents in Nigvziani, Tsintskaro, Samtatskaro and Chela, analysis of religious aggression expressed by Kobuleti locals suggests communal nature of the confrontation, stemming from public intolerance, their Islamophobic and Turkophobic sentiments. Ineffective policy of the authorities for elimination of hate crimes and their unjustified support for dominating religious groups in religious confrontations has increased violence and incited extremism in communities. 

- The authorities must prosecute and take timely legal measures in response to the ritual slaughter of a pig outside the boarding school of Muslim students and placement of its head on the door on September 10. A group of Kobuleti locals had been persecuting boarding school employees on religious grounds prior to the September 10 incident, by verbally abusing Muslims and disrupting construction of the boarding school. September 10 developments were the most blatant manifestation of hatred and persecution, indicative of crime envisaged by Article 156 (persecution) of the Criminal Code of Georgia. Despite the foregoing facts, confirmed in statements of Muslims, the investigating authorities have wrongfully qualified the actions under Article 151 of the Code. Individuals including possible organizers of the group involved in September 10 incident continue to curtail rights of Muslim community while the state does nothing to contain the risks posed by their actions. Despite signs of religious prosecution, currently only three individuals have been held liable and ordered to pay 100 laris of fine each for offence envisaged by Article 166 of the Code of Administrative Offences (petty hooliganism). 

- The police must take all measures to eliminate interference with functioning of the boarding school by Kobuleti locals. Illegal control of the boarding school premises by majority is tolerated by the police. The authorities are doing nothing to restore rights of the Muslim Community, while under para.2b of Article 17 of the Law on Police, police is obligated to eliminate any interference with the use of immovable property. The police has failed to fulfill its legal obligations by not reacting to violation of freedom of movement of owners of the building and preventing Muslim children from entering the building against the owners’ will. Notably, the assembly of Kobuleti locals outside the boarding school that also involves permanent restriction of rights of other individuals and threats of violence is outside the scope of peaceful assembly, requiring that the state take adequate legal in its response and for its elimination.  

- It is essential that the conduct of local authorities is bound by the limits of secularism and that they refrain from providing unjustified support to the majority and violating principles of religious neutrality;

- Negotiations between the authorities and the parties involved, with the aim of resolving the conflict, has been ineffective. For protecting procedural fairness of the negotiations, the authorities should ensure that the process is public and neutral actors who believe in human rights and equality are involved. It is essential that the process of negotiations is bound by the principles of religious freedom, equality and tolerance and the dispute is not resolved at the expense of curtailing rights of the minorities. 

The below signatory organizations reaffirm our support to the Muslim community and urge that the authorities implement effective and legal policy for the protection of rights of the minorities. 

Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Institute of Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI)
Media Development Fund (MDF)
Georgian Democratic Initiative (GDI)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) 
Transparency International – Georgia (TI)
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)