The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) responds to the decision of the Commission, which was set up to examine the circumstances regarding the building, which has the status of a club, made on May 11, 2017, located in Mokhe village in Adigeni Municipality. The decision of the Commission, presented by the Chairman of the State Agency for Religious Affairs at a press conference, included several conditions, such as the following: handover of 1400 (1)* square meters of land in Mokhe village to the Division of Muslims of all Georgia for the construction of a new mosque; transfer to state ownership of the disputed cult building under the same (disputed) status and inclusion of the building in the list of cultural heritage objects; planning and implementation of the monument protection measures by the Agency for Monument Protection; support by local self-government bodies in the process of construction of a mosque on the land transferred to the Division.
The State Agency for Religious Affairs took the responsibility for the execution of the Commission’s decision and at the same time announced the abolishment of the Commission. Zaza Vashakmadze also indicated that other similar cases would be decided upon by similar method in future. Chairman of the State Agency for Religious Affairs did not mention anything about the process of examining the historical and confessional origins of the disputed building; although, based on the media statements by the representative of the Agency for Monument Protection, it appears that the process of studying the issue of the origins of the building will be continued by the Agency and not by the Commission. The given decision by the Commission essentially repeats the recommendations published by the Commission on November 3, 2016. Local Muslim community in Mokhe responded to the Commission’s decision and stated that during the whole process as well as now, they express distrust towards the Commission and are not going to stop praying under an open sky in front of the disputed building.
EMC considers that the decision made by the Commission is an attempt of the conflict conservation at the expense of neglecting human rights and that it is problematic from legal and social perspectives due to the following main reasons:
– The decision made by the Commission has made it clear that the state has actually failed to examine the historical and confessional origins of the disputed building and to start the process of its return/restitution to its historic owner. The state has initially removed the dispute resolution from the legal regulation sphere and transformed it as a matter of political negotiations, which is in contradiction with the principle of the rule of law and is alleged violation of human rights, including the property rights, right to freedom of religion and the right of fair trial. The issue of return of the disputed cult building, seized during the Soviet period, to the historic owner requires the state to develop relevant legislation and legal mechanisms, including the adoption of the law on restitution in this direction. Although, considering the circumstance that the dominant religious church has claims for the major part of disputed historic buildings, during years, the state has not dared to implement systemic policy based on the principles of secularism and equality. Under the circumstances when the state has ensured return of the property confiscated during the Soviet period to the Orthodox Church, the failure to implement similar policy with regard to non-dominant religious groups, makes the discriminatory policies of the state even more apparent. It is clear that the resolution of the issue through political negotiations, based on the principle of consensus between the parties, which are initially in unequal conditions, creates grounds for the threats of privileging the dominant religious institution and discrimination. The approach chosen by the state with regard to the Mokhe case clearly shows that the government does not have the political will to regulate the issue of return of disputed cult buildings systemically and through legal basis and procedures.
– Considering the controversy between the statements by the representatives of the State Agency for Religious Affairs and the Agency for Monument Protection, it is obscure whether or not the state intends to finally examine the historical and confessional origins of the disputed building. Despite that, it is apparent that the state does not have the objective to return the disputed building to its historic owner, even if such issue is identified. By handing over a new piece of land to the Division of Muslims of All Georgia and making the offer to build a new mosque, the state creates certain alternative, compensation for the disputed cult building and against the interests and requests by the Muslim community and attempts to stop the process of legal request for the return of the building. It has to be emphasized that for the Muslim community, the return of the historic building had the significance of preserving own collective historic memory, recognition of their identity and dignity and it was never aimed to request construction of a new mosque in the village.
– The Commission set up by the State Agency for Religious Affairs was not adequately representative and transparent and the voice and interests of the local Muslim community were not heard within the Commission. The Commission included only representatives of the Division of Muslims of all Georgia, while local population has low trust towards them, which has been reflected in many statements made previously. Despite the multiple requests from the Muslim community, the State Agency for Religious Affairs did not ensure inclusion of the persons that have high trust from the side of local population in the Commission. Through using such approach, the state further deepened the distrust between the official religious institution and the Muslim community and considering the current statements made by the Muslim community that they express distrust towards the decision of the Commission, it is clear that the existing conflict is deadlocked and there are more risks of its escalation. It is noteworthy that during this whole period, the state has not taken any measures for rebuilding confidence between local communities in Mokhe and achieving reconciliation.
– Under the circumstances of anti human right approaches by the State Agency for Religious Affairs and low trust, the government did not accept the statements by the local Muslim community and other organizations on the necessity to exclude the State Agency for Religious Affairs from the process and to plan the problem resolution through ensuring higher political participation. Due to this fact, Muslim community’s distrust towards the state agencies deepened even further. If we consider the latest facts of discrimination against the Muslim community (including the illegal decision made on May 11, with regard to the construction of a new mosque in Batumi) and the clearly ineffective policy implemented by the state, it becomes apparent that the state policy towards the Muslim community has discriminatory tendency and promotes political and social exclusion of the Muslim community.
EMC continues monitoring the execution process of the decisions made by the Commission and will provide relevant legal assistance to the Muslim community in case of necessity.
EMC declares solidarity towards Muslim community in Mokhe and within the mandate of the organization and through all possible means, it will take all the necessary measures for ensuring effective realization of the rights of the Muslim community.
As it was later reported by the local media sources – Samkhretis Karibche (The Southern Gate), local Muslim resident Otar Mikeladze has allocated his own orchard for the construction of the Mosque in Mokhe; he has donated 2,000 square meters of land to the Division of Muslims of all Georgia.