The Public Defender satisfied EMC’s statement about discrimination against the Muslim Community while crossing the border

On April 25, 2017, the Public Defender of Georgia, based on the law on eliminating all forms of discrimination, and following the statement by the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), concerning the cases of alleged discrimination on religious grounds against the members of the Muslim Community while crossing of the border by the Revenue Service, a legal entity of the Ministry of Finance of Georgia and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, established the fact of direct discrimination.

According to the recommendation of the Public Defender, the mentioned agencies are to be given orders to ensure that the religious neutrality is protected and that the persons entering and leaving the border go through the visa/customs control without experiencing any discrimination. In addition, the authorities should ensure to gradual training of the employees of the agency, to raise awareness about the principles of religious neutrality and equality. In the given case, the applicants (J.A, N.D. and M.N.) mentioned arbitrary barriers, unjustified and long-term delays, interrogation with regards to religious affiliation, and repeated cases of confiscation of religious literature by the persons responsible for the customs checkpoint, while they were crossing of the border.

The patrol police detained the applicants for two hours at the Sarpi border checkpoint; interrogated them about their religious affiliation and details of their visit to Turkey and threatened with the confiscation of religious literature brought for personal use. It is noteworthy that the applicants’ religious affiliation and activities were questioned after they identified themselves as Muslims. At the same time, while they were restrained and interrogated, other persons crossed the border without any complication or suspension.

While studying the case, the Public Defender’s Equality Department identified systemic discrimination practices beyond the individual violations during the visa/customs control and interviewed other victims as well. In the course of the interviews, the facts about search among women (including stripping) have been revealed, as well as, the instances of groundless threats of fines, and possible use of language defined by Islamophobic prejudice.

In the given case, the Public Defender considered that the applicants were subjected to restriction of freedom of religion by limiting the freedom of movement and the right to property. According to the information obtained by the Public Defender, in the list of items given voluntary at the customs checkpoint, is the least amount of literature and is only about Islam, including the Quran. According to the Public Defender’s assessment, the voluntary concession of ownership rights on religious literature was mainly caused by psychological pressure and the fear of imposing non-existing penalties against Muslims by the persons responsible for the customs checkpoint, as well as, by the way of asking personal questions. According to the Public Defender’s statement, in such situations, the applicants and other persons had to act against their own will, which should be considered as interference in the internal sphere of religious freedom, with regard to religious polls related to religious identity. According to the recommendation, in the case of the applicants and other persons [Muslims] […] in similar circumstances, particularly for the purpose of restriction of religious literature and attributes, measures such as increased customs duties and request for a written consent of the mufti, were used. Unlike other people, all of them have been subjected to long-term inspection, during which they were asked personal questions about their appearance, past, and connections in Turkey.

The Public Defender estimates that the applicants’ and other interviewed persons’ detention at the border and the obstacles for bringing in religious paraphernalia or items, serves the purpose of suppressing religious activities, which may have a disastrous effect on the aspiration of the Muslim community in Georgia to improve their human rights situation.

 It is noteworthy that the Public Defender’s recommendation regarding the discrimination of the Muslim community is already the second decision. [1] The first recommendation concerns the discriminatory refusal of the Kobuleti municipality board to connect the Muslim boarding house building to the sewerage system. In this case, similar to the border cases, the Public Defender called upon the relevant agencies for the implementation of special positive educational measures in order to counter and eliminate anti-Islamic prejudices.

EMC addresses Revenue Service, a legal entity of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to immediately take all possible measures to fulfil the recommendations issued by the Public Defender and eliminate the practices of discriminatory restrictions of the religious freedom, the freedom of movement and the right to property for the Muslim community while they cross the borders. In this regard, the following is especially important:

  • Based on the recommendation, to develop clear instructions for the relevant staff of the agencies and their effective implementation within the system;
  • Ensure effective performance of general inspection services for the identification of similar facts of discrimination, reaction and imposing liability for appropriate staff;
  • Organize a coherent public campaign based on the support for religious equality to make the change in the State’s attitude and results of its efforts aimed at equality more apparent, including for the Muslim community.

EMC will monitor the process of following the recommendations of the Public Defender by the relevant agencies. Also, the organization will continue observing the cases and practices of alleged discrimination among the Muslim community while crossing the border, and will use legal means of protection to eliminate these cases.

————————————————

[1] Recommendation of September 19, 2016 on the refusal of “Kobuleti Water” and Kobuleti municipality Gamgeoba to connect  the Muslim Boarding School to the sewerage system. The decision has not yet been fulfilled citing the argument of resistance existing in the society.

The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) implementing the judicial support through the project “Increasing Access to Justice for Discriminated Religious Communities“ with the support of the Promoting Rule of Law in Georgia Activity (PROLoG) implemented by the East-West Management Institute (EWMI) and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)