Victims of Violence Vindicated
ON May 3, 2007, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, rendered a unanimous decision in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Republic of Georgia. The Court found that the Witnesses there had been subjected to inhuman treatment and that their right to freedom of religion had been infringed upon. The Court also rebuked the former government of Georgia for its inaction in prosecuting the perpetrators of the criminal action. What led to this decision?
On October 17, 1999, some 120 members of the Gldani Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tbilisi, the capital, were peacefully meeting together for worship. Suddenly, a large mob led by Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Orthodox priest, burst into the meeting place. The mob, armed with wooden clubs and iron crosses, viciously attacked those in attendance, inflicting injuries, some very serious, on a number of individuals. One woman sustained permanent damage to her eye from the blows she received. At least 16 persons needed medical attention. When some Witnesses went to the police station for help, they were met by the police chief, who said that he would have given them even worse treatment! The attack was filmed by a member of the mob and was later aired on national television stations, showing clearly who the attackers were.a
The Witnesses who were victimized filed criminal complaints, but no action was taken against the attackers. A police investigator assigned to look into the matter stated that he was an Orthodox believer and could not be impartial in the case. The inaction of the civil authorities emboldened the religious extremists to carry out over one hundred similar attacks.
So on June 29, 2001, Jehovah’s Witnesses filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights.b The Court rendered the final judgment on May 3, 2007, in which it gave a graphic description of the attack and condemned the inaction of the State authorities. The Court said: “The authorities . . . had a duty to act promptly to verify the information” about the attack. “Tolerance by the authorities towards such acts,” the decision held, “cannot but undermine public confidence in the principle of lawfulness and the State’s maintenance of the rule of law.”
The Court concluded: “As the attack against the applicants on 17 October 1999 constituted the first act of large-scale aggression against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the authorities’ negligence opened the doors to a generalisation of religious violence throughout Georgia by the same group of attackers.”
Accordingly, the victims of the violent attack were vindicated, and the government of Georgia was ordered to pay damages and legal fees to members of the Gldani Congregation. While Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia are happy that the violence and brutality have largely abated, they rejoice that the Court’s decision affirms their right to meet peacefully for worship. For this, they are truly thankful to their heavenly Father, Jehovah God, whose guidance and protection they have felt all along.—Psalm 23:4.
b The European Court of Human Rights is an organ of the Council of Europe and rules on alleged breaches of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Georgia adopted the convention on May 20, 1999, and thus committed itself to uphold its articles.