Violence Against Christian Leaders Continue in Georgia

TBILISI, Georgia - In a continuation of violence against Christians in the Euro-Asian nation Georgia, several church members in Tbilisi were beaten in a riot prior to a Jan. 24 gathering in the Euro-Asian country.

"Many people had been invited to this meeting, including parliamentarians, politicians, academicians, diplomats and representatives of all major Christian confessions in Georgia," said Malkhaz Songulashvili, president of the Evangelical Baptist Union and pastor of the church.

The members of Central Baptist Church in Tbilisi, Georgia were physically and verbally abused while they tried to defend their church by a group of ultra-Orthodox fundamentalists.

"Before all of these people arrived at the church, however, a group of ultra-fundamentalist Orthodox, led by [defrocked priest Basil] Mkalavishvili, started an attack on the church."

Otar Kalatozishvili, the church's deputy minister, was "mercilessly beaten" during the attack, Songulashvili reported.

Due to the increased tension surrounding the church, the chief of police delayed the conference and ordered all attendents, church members and protestors to leave. However, the Mklavishvili people resolved to stay to attack the conveners.

"Mkalavishvili's people pretended to leave the place, but instead they started beating our people and robbing them of their personal property," Songulashvili continued. "After the mob had left, the area police made the necessary investigations and we were able to continue with our service. This attack was an action not only against the Baptist church, but against all Christian churches in Georgia."

The Baptist World Alliance protested the Jan. 25 attacks in a letter to the president of Georgia, Eduard shevardnadze.

Theo Angelov, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, who wrote, "The authorities must take radical actions, otherwise the result will be devastating. Things that are taking place in Tbilisi and in some other places are now starting to overwhelm the country. The time has come for both authorities and society to raise their voice against religious terrorism."

This attack followed the February 2002 arson of a church warehouse filled with hundreds of Bibles.

Songulashvilli noted, "We are more than certain that unless there is serious pressure from Western nations [United States, members of the European Union] nothing is going to be changed. Letters to the U.S. senators and ambassador in Tbilisi will help. It will be also helpful if foreign ministers of European Union countries and their ambassadors in Tbilisi receive letters from different people, churches and organizations."

By Pauline C.