Transgender employee attacked in Spar supermarket in Tbilisi

5 February 2020
Spar Georgia
A Spar supermarket in Tbilisi. Photo: Robin Fabbro/OC Media

A transgender employee of the Spar supermarket chain has been attacked in Tbilisi because of her gender identity, queer rights group the Equality Movement has reported.

According to the group, one man has been charged for the attack, which occurred last month. They said the employee, who was not seriously injured, had appealed to them for help.

The incident is the third attack on an employee of Spar in Tbilisi in the last two months.

The Equality Movement cited the woman as saying that the incident took place during her night shift and that she didn’t recognise her attacker. She reportedly said that the man made transphobic slurs immediately prior to the attack.  

According to the Equality Movement, the court imposed ₾2,000 ($700) bail on the suspect. 

The Equality Movement’s Tamar Zarkua told OC Media that law enforcement agencies rarely qualify such crimes as being committed on the grounds of discrimination or intolerance, a separate article under the Criminal Code.

In their latest study on Georgia’s anti-discrimination policies, the Equality Movement indicated that the authorities had established a discriminatory motive as an aggravating circumstance in only two cases last year. 

Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity were added to the list of aggravating circumstances in Georgia’s Criminal Code in 2012. 

Zarkua said that Georgian courts sometimes do not impose harsher penalties on perpetrators of hate-motivated crimes. 

In the latest Rainbow Europe Index by international queer rights group ILGA-Europe, Georgia came 26th of 49 countries for its laws and policies surrounding queer rights, far above neighbouring Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as several EU member states.

The lack of implementation of existing laws to protect queer people, as well as widespread intolerant social attitudes towards queer people, have been identified by rights advocates as the main challenge holding the country back in this regard.

Polls by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and CRRC in recent years have not shown a strong improvement in attitudes towards queer people, except recently among young people. 

[Read more on OC Media: More young Georgians say queer rights are important than not, poll finds]

Lack of workplace safety

The Equality Movement told OC Media that the woman felt she had to leave her job following the attack because of the poor working conditions, including the absence of security. 

She was the third victim of an assault in Spar supermarkets in Tbilisi in the last two months. In January, a 24-year old Spar employee was stabbed with a knife. 

In another incident, a 20-year-old cashier, Mate Jomidava, died of his injuries on 19 January, after being attacked in a Spar supermarket in central Tbilisi on 30 December.

While the Interior Minister made several arrests and charges were brought in both earlier cases, the incidents triggered debates on the safety of employees working in around the clock supermarkets in Georgia.

On 28 January, several rights groups including Open Society — Georgia, EMC, and union the Solidarity Network said that Jomidava's death should be a wake-up call for the government to address the problem, inspect Spar and other establishments, and not to postpone reforming Georgia’s Labour legislation.

This included minimising all risks an employee could face during their working hours, including potential threats from customers.

According to a 2017 study by EMC, employees of large supermarket chains in Tbilisi cited the scrapping of security staff as among their biggest concerns. 

Spar was not immediately available for comment.

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