Analysis of the crimes against Jehovah witnesses in 2016

The level of crimes committed against Jehovah witnesses, one of the most marginalized religious groups, can be viewed as an important indicator of religious intolerance and inactivity of the State. The mentioned community is the most active in proselytism and thus, most frequently faces discriminatory, violent and prejudiced acts.

 

Factual analysis of the incidents of 2016

Based on the analysis of the crimes of religious intolerance in 2016, the number of such crimes has decreased as compared to 2015, but compared to 2010-2012, is still very high.

According to the data by the Jehovah Witnesses Religious Organization, there were total of 23 cases of physical violence, of verbal abuse and property damage in 2016 (12 cases of physical violence, 2 cases of verbal abuse and threats, 9 cases of property damage). Compared to 2015 (28 cases of verbal abuse and 11 cases of physical violence), the number of cases of physical violence towards the members of the community has increased. As for the property damage, it mostly includes, damage caused to religious literature and street stands, as well as, damage caused to the façades of the king’s halls or the inventory kept inside. In some cases, physical abuse is accompanied by the destruction of property.

Based on the last year’s data, the aggressive behavior usually takes place in public spaces and the Jehovah witnesses are mostly attacked while at work in the streets. The number of cases, which include forceful entering the houses of the Jehovah witnesses and damaging property, has decreased (2 cases), however, similar problems still exist and the instances of entering the houses, damaging the windows, throwing rocks, damaging property, including cars and physical attacks, still take place. It must be mentioned that the mentioned acts are systematic and continuous and are often carried out in groups. In 2016, there were several cases of persecution and systematic violence towards the Jehovah witnesses from the number of citizens. The citizens met them near the king’s halls with insulting posters and prevented their movement. The same citizens also recorded the dialogues of the community members and published them online, which contributed to increased hostility. While discussing the continuity of the criminal acts, another case must be mentioned, when the person, who previously had been sentenced to bail for the instances of persecution of the Jehovah witnesses, continued to threaten and destroy the religious literature with the interval of few days.

In this context, it is noteworthy that unlike 2015 [1], in 2016 there were no cases of involvement of clergymen in the actions against the community. However, there was a case of use of hate language by the public official, namely, the head of military draft service in Khashuri, while discussing an alternative military service.

Assessment of the investigation process of the cases in 2016

 According to the statistical data submitted by the Jehovah Witnesses Organization, the investigation was initiated for some of the crimes against the community in 2016. The investigation for these cases, were initiated under the Criminal Code Article 156 (persecution), Article 155 (illegal interference with religious practices), article 187 of the Criminal Code (Damaging or destruction of other persons) and article 125 (beating (the norm before the amendment)), in one of the cases, the investigation was initiated based on the articles 142 (violation of equality) and 158 (violation of private communication).

The information submitted by the Jehovah Witness Christian Organization confirms that compared to previous years, the issue of qualification for the criminal acts, has improved. However, it should be noted that it is still problematic to establish intolerance motive as defined in the Criminal Code, article 53, paragraph 31 and to reflect it in the relevant legal documents both by the prosecution and the court. Only in some of the cases (3) committed against the community members, was the intolerance motive included in the judgment of the court. The analysis of the investigation process of the cases against the community members shows that considering the previous years, the problem of loyalty towards the offender and establishing legal actions for specific cases, still exists. In three cases, the investigation was terminated, which was mostly due to an inefficient reaction by the police, by instructing the victim and the offender to reach the agreement. Some of the cases show that the policemen, after receiving notifications about the crimes, try to come to an agreement and conclude by signed statement by the offender, which is followed by the termination of the investigation.

Apart from the above-mentioned, the analysis of the crimes against the community members in 2016, demonstrates that the investigation process in some cases is delayed, that includes the problem of giving the status of victim to the injured party. It must be mentioned that the investigation process is pretty vague for the persons, whose rights had been violated. Namely, in the reporting period, the members of the community didn’t have any information on the ongoing instigation of eight cases. The injured parties in the specific cases do not possess the status of victims, as defined by the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia. This deprives them of the opportunity to receive information about the ongoing investigation, or read the case files.

It must be taken into the consideration that similar to 2015, in 2016, the law enforcement agencies were not able to establish legal responsibility for damaging literature, stands and king’s halls belonging to the Jehovah witnesses. In most cases, the investigation is initiated based on the article 187 of the criminal code, since according to the legislation the damage must exceed 150 GEL. The damage caused to the community doesn’t exceed this amount, thus the State doesn’t implement any legal action in the cases of religious hate.

In this regard, there is another problem. In some cases, the acts may constitute an administrative offense and, and due to termination of investigation/persecution citing the lack of criminal attributes, the administrative act may not be evaluated as illegal. In this regard, missing the deadline established by the law, by the investigative body, may also be a problem, namely, according to paragraph 3 of the article 38 “in case of termination of criminal prosecution and investigation, but when the administrative offense attributes are obvious, administrative sentences may be imposed no later than one month after the day of termination of prosecution and investigation”. Consequently, the investigative body often doesn’t establish an administrative offense within a month; as a result the act is not followed by any kind of action.

The analysis of the criminal acts committed against the community members, reveals certain loyalty towards the offenders not only during the investigation, but during the court’s determination of the criminal responsibility, which increases the risk of relapse. The mentioned is demonstrated by the case of persecution of the community members in November of 2016, which was committed with an interval of a few days, by the citizen (which, despite previously being sentenced for bail, continued his actions), which for the previous three crimes, had been sentenced to the fine of 500 GEL by the court and 6 months of jail time, which was considered as suspended sentence. Obviously, this sentence (6 month suspended sentence and a fine of 500 GEL) will not be a deterrent to future criminal behavior.

Summary

In 2016, the nature of the criminal cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses and of their investigation indicates the lack of adequate response by the government and ineffective policy. It is particularly important that in many cases, the authorities’ attitude is loyal towards the perpetrators of criminal acts and is not aimed at preventing future criminal acts. This, among others, contradicts the State’s commitments towards the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. At this point, the State policy on hate crimes, falls within the scope of the Committee of Ministers supervision, including, “97 members of Gladni congregation and four other persons against Georgia” (2007) and “Begheluri and others against Georgia” (2014) case decision monitoring, in which the Court pointed out the ill-treatment, insufficient investigation and ineffective policy by the State and demanded implementing effective mechanisms. Consequently, it is vital for the government to show its efforts to improve the situation and to demonstrate the specific results. [2]

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[1] The analysis of the cases in 2015, shows the participation of clergy in the acts of violence, see research by EMC “Religious Freedom and Critical analysis of the State’s discriminatory and non-secular policy”, Tbilisi, 2016, p. 123.

[2] It should be noted that the Jehovah’s Witness Christian Religious Organization also filed two cases to the European Court of Human Rights “Biblaia and others against Georgia” and “Tsulukidze and others against Georgia”, which concern the same problems.