Conflict between local Muslim and Christian communities over plot of land for cemetery in a small village of Adigeni in Samtskhe-Javakheti region grew into a physical confrontation on February 29.
Three locals from the Muslim community sustained injuries with one of them having open wound of forehead, which was treated at a medical center, local news agency, Samkhretis Karibche, reported.
The village of Adigeni in the municipality of the same name, Adigeni, is populated by ethnic Georgians with Muslim community, who resettled in the village from Adjara more than two decades ago, representing minority. Last year Muslim community requested a plot of land for their separate cemetery, which was opposed by some locals from the local Christian community.
Although the issue fully falls within the competence of the local authorities, it was referred to the State Agency of Religious Issues. On February 25 the agency recommended allocation of plot of land for a Muslim cemetery in the village of Adigeni.
According to a report by Samkhretis Karibche, a verbal confrontation occurred between a group of local Muslims and Christians in Adigeni in the morning of February 29 and when in the evening of the same day head of Adigeni municipality, Zakaria Endeladze, arrived in the village to discuss allocation of plot of land physical confrontation occurred. According to local Muslims, while discussing with the head of municipality the issue of extending existing Christian cemetery to add a separate area for Muslim cemetery, they were attacked by a group of young men from the local Christian community.
The Interior Ministry said investigation was opened under the first part of article 156 of the criminal code, involving “persecution of persons because of their opinion, faith or political, social, professional or religious activities.”
Police remained present in the village of Adigeni, but no charges were filed and no arrest made as of late afternoon on March 1.
In a statement on March 1, the Interior Ministry called “for restraint and for refraining from provocations and violent confrontations.”
“The police will take strict measures in line with the law against any incident involving infringement of human rights,” the Interior Ministry said.
Human rights groups and public defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, said that the authorities’ failure to respond properly to previous cases of violent incidents on religious grounds is contributing to reoccurrence of such cases.
This is the third major incident on religious grounds in the Adigeni municipality since 2013. A minaret was forcibly removed by the authorities from a mosque in the village of Chela in August 2013, sparking protest of local Muslim community; the minaret was re-erected three months later. In October, 2014 dispute over a partially destroyed building in the village of Mokhe led to confrontation between local Muslim community and the police.
In a recent periodic report on Georgia, released on March 1, Council of Europe’s (CoE) human rights body, European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), said that the authorities have “not taken adequate measures to deal with religious intolerance” and also failed to enforce the law to safeguard the rights of religious minorities in several cases of attacks, which were motivated by religious intolerance.
“In some instances they [the authorities] promoted local mediation mechanisms instead, calling upon the dominant Georgian Orthodox Church to negotiate with the local Muslim community in the aftermath of islamophobic attacks,” reads the report.