Georgian religious minorities fear intolerance 


Gruziia OnLine, 2 August 2017


The constitutional amendments adopted by parliament "engender a threat of unjustified restrictions on freedom of religion," an appeal of the Council of Religions under the National Defense of Georgia to the parliament of the country says, which was published on 2 August.


The appeal, which is signed by 19 groups of religious minorities, speaks about article 16 of the draft constitution, which was adopted on second reading, according to which freedom of faith, confession, and conscience may be restricted "in order to guarantee state and public security, which is necessary for the existence of a democratic society, prevention of crime, protection of health, administration of justice, or protection of other rights."


The religious associations think that these criteria "engender a high risk that they may be used not for legitimate purposes nor goals necessary for the existence of a democratic state."


"When we talk about threats of restriction of faith and confession according to the constitution, we are taking into account those years-long challenges and barriers that have been faced by a large portion of religious associations in Georgia," the Council of Religions appeal says.


"We have frequently been victims of restriction of the expression of our faith, of violence, and of intolerance," the members of the Council of Religions say, and they add that with the imposing of "vague" norms in the constitution "illegal restriction of the rights of religious associations may receive legitimacy."


In the original version of the constitutional amendments, which was sent to the

Venice Commission, the sixteenth article did not contain the precise list of grounds for restrictions on freedom of religion and the corresponding norm was worded in the following way: "It is not permitted to restrict faith and freedom of conscience, if their manifestation does not violate the rights of others."


The Venice Commission did not approve the formulation. According to the conclusion of the Venice Commission, this norm, on one hand, gave a "narrow" explanation of freedom of religion and, on the other hand, made possible a "broad" interpretation of the restriction of the rights of others.


"We recommend that the pertinent norm of the constitution include other legitimate goals for restricting freedom of religion (maintenance of security, public order, health, and ethical norms) as this is defined in article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant of Political Rights," the Venice Commission's conclusion notes.


The constitutional amendments were adopted by parliament on 23 June, on second reading. The third and final reading will occur in the autumn session of 2017. (tr. by PDS, posted 4 August 2017)


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