PRESIDENT SHEVARDNADZE'S STATEMENT WELCOMED, BUT ACTION ALSO NEEDED
(Extensions of Remarks - April 03, 2003)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E669-E670]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




  PRESIDENT SHEVARDNADZE'S STATEMENT WELCOMED, BUT ACTION ALSO NEEDED

                                 ______
                                 

                       HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH

                             of new jersey

                    in the house of representatives

                        Thursday, April 3, 2003

  Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, today I want to acknowledge and 
welcome the March 14th statement of the President of Georgia, Eduard 
Shevardnadze, pledging his commitment to religious freedom for all 
Georgians and promising the punishment of individuals complicit in mob 
attacks on religious minorities. (I am submitting the statement for the 
Record below.) President Shevardnadze made this pledge during an 
ecumenical service in Tbilisi's Evangelist-Baptist Cathedral Church, 
attended by leaders of the Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman 
Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist churches and many individuals from the 
diplomatic community. The U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Miles, 
also attended and addressed the gathering. Reportedly, so many people 
came that hundreds had to listen via loudspeakers in the churchyard.
  The service was initially planned for late January, but defrocked 
priest Basil Mkalavishvili and his crowd of thugs assaulted worshipers 
and clergy an hour before it was scheduled to begin--as they have been 
doing with impunity since 1999. Individuals were beaten as they tried 
to leave, with rocks and stones being reportedly thrown. While 
President Shevardnadze quickly condemned that attack, ordering the 
Interior Minister, the Prosecutor General, State Chancellery Head, and 
the Security Council Secretary to investigate and punish the 
perpetrators, no arrests or prosecutions followed.
  Despite Georgia's appalling record on religious tolerance for the 
last few years, I hope President Shevardnadze's speech at the Baptist 
church signals a new determination to arrest and aggressively prosecute 
the mob leaders and their henchmen. He promised that ``as the President 
of Georgia and a believer, I shall not restrict myself only to a mere 
expression of resentment. I do promise that the President and the 
Authorities of Georgia will do their utmost to grant every person 
freedom of expression of faith.'' Driving home the point further, Mr. 
Shevardnadze declared, ``the state will exert its pressure on whoever 
comes in defiance of this principle. You may stand assured that the 
aggressors will be brought to justice.''
  As Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, over the past three 
years I have watched with increasing alarm the escalation of mob 
violence. On September 24th I chaired a Commission hearing focused on 
this disturbing pattern. The Jehovah's Witnesses have borne the brunt 
of attacks, along with Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists and 
Catholics. Most disheartening has been the government's indifference; 
victims throughout the country have filed approximately 800 criminal 
complaints, without one criminal conviction.
  Despite a series of statements by President Shevardnadze, Georgia's 
Minister of Interior

[[Page E670]]

and Prosecutor General appear unwilling to effectively enforce the rule 
of law, refusing to arrest mob leaders like Mkalavishvili and Paata 
Bluashvili and not attempting serious prosecutions. For example, the 
trial of Mkalavishvili has dragged on for more than a year, without a 
single piece of evidence considered yet. I would hope the provision of 
adequate and visible security, which took months to organize, will 
continue and that the prosecutor will begin his case shortly. Also, the 
inauguration of trial proceedings against Bluashvili in Rustavi is 
positive; I trust the delays and shenanigans seen in Mkalavishvili's 
trial will not be repeated there. I also urge the Government of Georgia 
to arrest and detain Mkalavishvili, Bluashvili and other indicted 
persons who continue to perpetrate violent criminal acts against 
religious minorities.
  Undoubtedly, President Shevardnadze's presence at the March 14th 
service and his statement illustrate his personal commitment to 
religious tolerance and basic law and order. Yet, while I appreciate 
his gesture, it is time for real action. If the attacks are allowed to 
continue, it will only become more difficult to rein in this mob 
violence. If presidential orders are repeatedly ignored, it will only 
further weaken the government's ability to enforce the rule of law. 
And, of course, we must not forget the plight of minority religious 
communities that continue to live in a state of siege, without any real 
protection from their government. Ironically, it appears that 
minorities religious communities are freer to profess and practice 
their faith in regions of Georgia not under the control of President 
Shevardnadze's government.
  In closing, I urge President Shevardnadze to fulfill his most recent 
commitment to punish the aggressors, thereby restoring Georgia's 
international reputation and upholding its international commitments as 
a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation 
in Europe.
  I and other Members of Congress are acutely interested in seeing 
whether the Government of Georgia will actually arrest the perpetrators 
of violence and vigorously prosecute them.

Representatives of all Religions and Nations have to Raise Prayers for 
                             Peace Together

       My dear friends, Christians, dear Ambassadors: I am here to 
     give utterance to my contentment and admiration, which 
     derives from seeing you, all Christians, or, to be more 
     precise, representatives of all Christian folds, assembled 
     here, under the same roof of this temple, in the capital 
     of Georgia famed as the Virgin's lot.
       I am happy to be a witness to this occurrence. I am happy 
     because you are together, because we are together. But all of 
     us have our own faith.
       I am an Orthodox believer, but we are all Christians. It is 
     what we should always bear in mind and keep intact this 
     wholeness and unity.
       Georgia is one of those countries on the planet whose roots 
     go back the farthest in history. Tolerance has become 
     particularly entrenched in its history and nature since the 
     days we embraced Christianity.
       Christ granted that we be together. And more than this: 
     Georgia is a multinational country, where Muslims and 
     followers of other confessions have dwelt along with 
     Christians in the course of centuries.
       We live presently in a world of stark contradictions. It 
     remains anybody's guess when a bomb may blast. You probably 
     understand what I mean. Therefore, we should pray for peace, 
     and these prayers should be raised by all of us: Christians, 
     Muslims, representatives of every religion, confession and 
     nation.
       But prayers alone will not keep us together. We have also 
     to struggle, in order that, through our benevolence, faith, 
     love and respect to one another, we may put up resistence to 
     the eradicating processes of which I already made a mention.
       As was customary with my great ancestors, I go to an 
     Orthodox church. But nor do I keep distance from synagogues, 
     mosques or churches of different Christian confessions.
       I feel respect for all who have confident belief in 
     kindness and its victory.
       I am happy to see, along with Georgian citizens, the 
     attendance of the distinguished ambassadors and diplomats 
     accredited in Georgia, who have come this evening to share 
     our happiness.
       I cannot but express a deep sense of regret, even 
     resentment at the gross infringement of our unity, mutual 
     respect and freedom of faith by some of the aggressors.
       As the President of Georgia and a believer, I shall not 
     restrict myself only to a mere expression of resentment. I do 
     promise that the President and the Authorities of Georgia 
     will do their utmost to grant every person freedom of 
     expression of faith.
       The state will exert its pressure on whoever comes in 
     defiance of this principle. You may stand assured that the 
     aggressors will be brought to justice.
       I would like to greet you once more and wish you happiness 
     and advancement of goals. So as with Georgia, a multinational 
     country of various religious confessions, my wishes are for 
     joy, happiness and prosperity.

                          ____________________