Public Debate on Challenges of Secularism in Georgia

On February 26, 2016, the Public Defender held another public debate on the topic: "Challenges of secularism in Georgia."

Speeches were delivered at the debate by Maia Kvirikashvili, Head of the Division of Human Rights of the Prosecutor’s Office, Giga Zedania, Ilia State University Rector and Doctor of Philosophy, and Tamta Mikeladze, representative of the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center. The public debate was moderated by Public Defender Ucha Nanaushvili.

The debate focused on the main challenges of proper realization of the principle of secularism in the country, the steps that have been and should be made by the state to respond to the challenges. the following issues were discussed: the investigation of crimes committed against the freedom of religion and its effectiveness, the state funding for religious organizations and the transfer of state property to them, the situation of construction of religious buildings, the problems in the field of education, the efforts of the Parliament and the Government in response to the existing challenges and the role of the Agency of Religion in strengthening secularism.

Special attention was paid to the issue of the investigation of crimes committed on religious grounds. According to the representative of the Prosecutor’s Office, in 2014-2015 investigations were mainly launched into the cases of interference with the performance of religious rites; charges were filed against 7 persons in 2014 and 5 persons - in 2015. The representative of the Prosecutor’s Office also spoke about the practice of avoidance of jail, which is often used by the investigation agency to defuse tension; however, Maia Kvirikashvili said that the measure is not meant to avoid punishment. According to her, prisoners are released from prison in exchange for performingcommunity services.

Ilia State University rector Giga Zedania reviewed the causes of secularism and talked about the activities of fundamentalist groups in the country. He stressed the importance of a campaign launched against civic education and the need for carrying out reforms in the field of religion.

The issue of financing religious organizations was discussed by Tamta Mikeladze, representative of the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center. According to her, allocation of finances only for 4 religious organizations was discriminatory.

The representative of the State Agency of Religion once again explained the agency's mandate and stressed that the agency issues only recommendations. Archil Metreveli talked about the ongoing educational meetings held by the agency for public servants on the issues of religious neutrality and protection of the principles of secularism.

The second part of the public debate was held in the question & answer format.

Public debates on important issues of human rights are organized on the last Friday of each month by the Public Defender and is supported by the EU project "Support to the Public Defender's Office".


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