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The Georgian Parliament’s Human Rights Committee is to create a working group to develop a bill against ‘insulting religious feelings’. The bill was co-authored and supported by two conservative Georgian groups.
Emzar Kvitsiani, an MP from the Alliance of Patriots, a conservative party with six seats in parliament, and Zviad Tomaradze, head of Georgia’s Demographic Society XXI, a non-governmental group known for making homophobic and xenophobic statements, introduced the bill to the Human Rights Committee on Tuesday. The committee supported the idea but concluded that the bill needs improvements.
The bill would impose fines or jail time for those convicted of ‘insulting religious feelings’, but according to Kvitsiani, one of the co-authors, it would not apply to the preachings or sermons by religious figures.
Committee chairperson Sopio Kiladze, an MP from the ruling Georgian Dream party, said the committee supported the ‘principles’ of the initiative, but that there was a danger it could be unconstitutional. This, she said, was why a group should be created to develop the bill further.
‘It’s better to adopt a law that complies with the constitution than to adopt an unconstitutional law’, she said during the hearing.
Kvitsiani said the reason they decided to submit the bill was the ‘frequent insults towards religious feelings and sanctities’.
‘For several years we have heard masked and direct insults towards the Georgian Orthodox Church, as well as other traditional religions in the country under the guise of “freedom of speech and expression” ’, he remarked.
In its current form, the bill would punish publicly expressing hatred towards ‘religious sanctities’, a religious organisation, a cleric or parish, or publishing/displaying material which aims to ‘insult religious feelings’. The penalties suggested in the bill for this were a fine or up to a year in jail. Vandalising religious buildings or other sanctities would be punished by imprisonment of up to two years.
The bill’s authors were challenged by the committee to explain how ‘religious feelings’ and ‘insulting religious feelings’ could be defined. To this, Tomaradze responded that it would be challenging, but gave examples of other Georgian laws, such as against humiliating a person’s dignity, which he said were similar.
At the end of the hearing, committee head Sopio Kiladze decided not to put the bill up to a vote, but to create a group to continue working on it, which would include MPs, religious figures, and rights activists.
The bill is not the first attempt to criminalise ‘insulting religious feelings’. In 2016, Georgian Dream MP Soso Jachvliani submitted a bill written by the Demographic Development Foundation, an organisation that has expressed sympathies towards the far-right March of Georgians group.
The bill was eventually dropped but had gained initial support at the Human Rights Committee from several prominent ruling party MPs, including deputy chairperson Gedevan Popkhadze, and the current head of the Legal Issues Committee, Eka Beselia.
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