Posted by: gaybatumi | May 8, 2015

Not even in 2015 will Georgian LGBT community be able to publicly mark IDAHO


IDAHO-1

Statement

Not even in 2015 will Georgian LGBT community be able to publicly mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).

Since 2012, IDAHO day in Georgia is a day of barring of LGBT individuals from public visibility. With every coming of May 17th, we are all brutally reminded of aggression and abuse, threats and humiliation, coming from radical groups and the Georgian Orthodox Church. Meanwhile, the State is daily distanced from secular principles, increasingly under the influence of hungry-for-power and coercive religious institution – Georgian Orthodox Church.

Streets, families and workplaces are where LGBT individuals are oppressed, while Identoba, representing these groups, is a witness to all of this. Notwithstanding with the fact that we want to speak publicly about this pain only once a year, for a brief amount of time, and in limited scope, our every attempt ends with inescapable threat of death. Furthermore, speaking up about human rights violations is irresponsibly labeled as “propaganda”.

In 2015, Identoba decided not to give in to the threat of organized violence and sought to demand protection of LGBT rights in a public manner. Identoba’s goal was twofold: 1) to ensure physical safety of IDAHO participants, 2) exercise the Freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly – a right abrogated since 2012.

Despite numerous attempts to negotiate and our best efforts, Identoba was not able to secure guarantees that a peaceful and public event would take place. Therefore, Identoba and LGBT community are still forced to continue its human rights work behind closed doors, under the conditions of undeclared theocracy. Georgia’s Orthodox Church will completely occupy every public space available on this years’ May 17th. The Church has long been demanding adoption of Russian-inspired law that prohibits “propaganda” to make our work impossible. Identoba is concerned, that they soon be able to do that, thanks to suspicious law “about inciting hatred”, initiated with unprecedented dedication to adopt it, and sponsored by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Stages of Planning IDAHO Day

Diplomatic community, state bodies and non-governmental organisations were part of the failed attempt to organize a peaceful demonstration on May 17th.

On March 28, 2015 Identoba launched public poll. Up to 460 beneficiaries and supporters of Identoba voted. Majority of the voters – 40% – asked for a “public rally” to commemorate IDAHO day. Per community’s request, Identoba decided to join forces with other organizations and activists, and commemorate victims of homophobia in a small, well organized, 5 minute-brief action in front of State Chancellery building, a popular venue for street protest.

On April 15, Identoba wrote a letter to the President of Georgia, the constitutional guarantor of human rights in Georgia, to the Prime Minister of Georgia (PM), the head of the Government of Georgia, and to the Minister of Internal Affairs (MIA), a body responsible for security of the action.

On April 22 MIA replied to Identoba in writing and signaled its readiness to start discussing safety measures, while PM and President have not replied yet.

On April 24, the US Embassy initiated an information meeting, which was attended by Identoba, WISG, GYLA, TI Georgia, EU human rights officer, representative of Public Defender of Georgia, and assistant to the Premier-Minister of Georgia in Human Rights. At the meeting, Identoba reiterated that it was going to hold a) small-scale action in front of State Chancellery, and b) a conference dedicated to human rights situation in Georgia, co-organized in cooperation with other NGOs.

On April 24, Deputy Minister (DM) of Internal Affairs requested meeting on safety measures. DM declared to Identoba that holding a demonstration in front of the Chancellery building would not be justifiable, since the Government itself shares anti-homophobic sentiments. They offered an Exhibition Center instead, located on Tsereteli Avenue (away from city center). Identoba agreed, that holding the event in front of the Chancellery was not a must, but disagreed with the idea that International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia would be marked far from the center. Therefore, Identoba suggested an alternative venue – Radisson Hotel, located on Rose Sq., near Identoba’s office and Rustaveli Ave. DM told Identoba that in order to minimize risks, the Government was in talks with the Orthodox Church. Identoba postponed making decision about the demonstration, until next meeting with MIA was called for.

On April 27, second meeting was held between MIA, Identoba, and the Assistant to PM in Human Rights Issues. Identoba was told, that MIA would prefer if Identoba moved the commemoration of the action away from Radisson – to Holiday Inn’s parking lot, located in Saburtalo District (which is not a historic center of Tbilisi). If Identoba would chose the newly suggested venue, MIA stated that they would guarantee full array of security measures, down to the point that aggressive groups would not even be allowed to approach the area at all. MIA also confirmed, that it was negotiating with the Orthodox Church on the following: if LGBT activists were to say no to their constitutional right to peaceful assembly near Rustaveli, the Church would also not hold any event near it. Identoba’s representatives gave initial nod and took time to discuss the proposition with the community members.

LGBT community representatives discussed the proposition and came to the conclusion that celebrating international human rights day on a parking lot is as much comical and derogatory idea as it can get. This takes away their right to occupy public spaces almost the same way, and doesn’t differ much from the situation in which they would be unable to hold it at all. Consequently, Identoba notified all parties, involved in the consultation process, that the community didn’t agree to MIA’s proposition and demanded conversation to be focused around issues of safety of small event to be held in front of Radisson, on a small strip of pedestrian area, between Rustaveli Ave. and the hotel. Alternatively, Identoba was ready to contain the event near Bicycle statue, on Rose Sq., approximately 100 meters away from the Radisson Hotel.

On April 29, even though Identoba never publicly spoke about May 17th plans, Orthodox Church publicly confirmed that it had already decided organizing various concerts and other public events. Despite the Government’s promise that if Identoba would chose not to do any public action on Rustaveli, the Church would do the same, we were faced with the fact that the Church will occupy every public space not only on the 17th, but also on the 16th of May.

On May 1st, MIA initiated a third meeting. Identoba asked Transparency International – Georgia to attend the meeting in the capacity of an independent observer. MIA, Identoba and LGBT – Georgia, attended the meeting. Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs explained to Identoba that MIA would only ensure freedom of assembly if Identoba chose to commemorate May 17th on the parking lot of Holiday Inn. If Identoba would choose to still hold action in front of Radisson, MIA would take “proportionate measures” to contain violence. It became clear that the Orthodox Church was already plotting violent attacks against LGBT activists, which would clearly endanger human lives. MIA was not able to explain why should Identoba not hold a demonstration for minutes, on Rose Sq. if it would be peaceful, silent, if the Church was not going to attack it with brutal force and if the Government was able to stop it from happening.

Even though it was not directly communicated, MIA indicated to Identoba that the State was not able to guarantee that IDAHO day event on Rose Sq. would be fully protected and would be conducted in a peaceful manner. Per our observation, this is why MIA tried to remove LGBT activists as far as possible from the city center. Otherwise, it remains a mystery, why was it impossible to hold two parallel peaceful actions in Tbilisi. MIA didn’t want to confess that actions organized by the Church will be of violent nature and at the same time, tried to pressure Identoba into giving up on the right to assembly.

The meeting was rather difficult and with unclear outcomes. Hence, Identoba decided to wait for several days, before going public about its IDAHO day plans.

On May 4th, State Security Agency initiated a fourth meeting with Identoba. At the meeting, we expressed our readiness to even downsize the commemoration event on Rose Sq., invite only 50 individuals and not make a statement about it until after day was over peacefully. If the precedent of enjoying freedom of assembly took place, Identoba would organize a large scale, public event later on the same day, at the location suggested by MIA (Holiday inn). Secretly organizing a very small-scale action near Rustaveli would be seen as a symbolic act of our ability – to enjoy our constitutional rights and at the same time, it would eliminate the risks of attacks.

On May 5th, Church went public with their plans: not only will they hold action on Rustaveli, unlike what the MIA had promised, but also they will start festivities on May 16th. The Church plans to occupy every central location in the Capital just so that LGBT activists are deprived of their right to freedom of assembly and expression. The poster, distributed by the Church, reads that a host of “secular” events and concerts will take place. The poster is heavy on the emphasis that most of the events will be dedicated to children. This is a continuation of shameful practice, in which the anti-gay propaganda argues that LGBT visibility is a danger to children and hence they should remain invisible. Since 2012 the Church has argued that holding IDAHO near schools is a sin, etc.

On May 6th, State Security Agency initiated final meeting. Identoba was told that even though the organization never spoke about May 17th, the Church has still gone ahead with massive rally and events and it plans to bring out nearly 200.000 individuals on the 16th and 17th. This makes it principally impossible for LGBT activists to gather anywhere publicly in Tbilisi, including in “Holiday Inn”. Identoba was asked that, if the organization was still planning to hold a demonstration even on the parking lot of the MIA suggested hotel, it should not make public statement about it.

Assessment

The State did everything it could, to openly carry out only the interests of the Orthodox Church and imposed burden of responsibility on the shoulders of LGBT activists, appealed heavily on the risks to the security (as if it was Identoba that plotted violence), spoke incessantly about upcoming Riga Summit and the undesirability of spoiling Georgia’s image before it. They even went as far as to call the Church “more constructive [than Identoba], forcing LGBT community to disrobe itself from their right to assembly and freedom of expression. Even though MIA won’t admit that it will not provide legally required protection measures, it neither gives straight guarantees that manifestation will take places without external interference and violence.

The arguments show that Georgia’s Orthodox Church, will, just like it has done in the past, take every measure to disown LGBT individuals from their right to freedom of expression. That is why they purposefully planned several religious festivities and other events on Rustaveli Avenue, which means that LGBT activists are not even able to show up anywhere near. Despite the seemingly peaceful character of the Church orchestrated activities, everyone, MIA included, understands that this creates a direct threat of violence and clashes between various social groups.

Calling to avoid public announcement of the IDAHO day commemoration event even at the compromise settlement venue (Holiday Inn parking lot), the State has not only pushed LGBT themed activities out from the center and into peripheries, but has ‘suggested’ that their visibility be limited. As a result of all of this, this year LGBT individuals will have to go back to closets, once again. For four years in a row, Georgia does not protect constitutional rights to assembly, freedom of expression and manifestation

The State has given up on adequately punishing perpetrators of 2013 May 17th. Furthermore, it is simply unable to prevent violence that is announced in advance.

State agencies are unceremoniously and openly linked to Orthodox Church, and in 2015 they are not even trying to hide that whether particular social group is given freedom of expression is agreed and sanctioned by this violent institution that the Orthodox Church has become.

Georgia is not willing to curb illegal and violent actions of influential institutions and radical organizations. Furthermore, it negotiates with them how human rights should be taken away from minorities.

MIA could not answer the logic behind putting Identoba and the Church as “opposed parties”: unlike Orthodox Church, Identoba has never resorted or intended to resort to, violence.

Identoba alleges that in 2015 not only will Georgian LGBT community be unable to exercise their right to freedom of expression, assembly and manifestation, but that entire state apparatus, and religious institution, coalesced with it, are orchestrating eternal deprivation of constitutional rights of this minority group in a deliberate, intention, and coordinated manner.

It is Identoba’s position, that Georgia is a theocracy now. Identoba refuses to continue behind-the-doors consultations with the Government about May 17th. It is also a reasonable expectation, that the Government will reject and disclaim most of the arguments brought forward by the organization. Therefore, Identoba publicly requests allocation of space on Rustaveli Avenue, where it would be possible to celebrate IDAHO day in a peaceful manner. This would be the only trustworthy way to prove that constitutional rights of assembly and manifestation are not abolished, and that Orthodox Church’s attempts to obliterate Georgian Constitution have not succeeded.

source: http://identoba.org/en/idaho/
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