Georgia proposes ‘blasphemy bill’ to outlaw religious insults

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Source: The Guardian

Georgia is planning a “blasphemy bill” that will make religious irreverence punishable by law, prompting concerns about freedom of expression in the devoutly Orthodox Christian society.

Critics say the bill, which has been approved at committee stage and is headed for the parliamentary floor, could be used against any organisations not following the official church line.

Georgia ranks among the world’s most religious nations, with residents extremely sensitive to any criticism of the church which is seen as the historical defender of the country’s national identity. In 2013, Patriarch Ilia II ranked as the country’s most trusted public figure.

The proposed bill would impose a 100 lari fine ($120) for “insults to religious feelings”, which would double for a repeat offence. Desecrating a religious symbol could cost up to 1,000 lari. With the average monthly salary no more than about 818 laris, the amounts are not insignificant.

Supporters argue that the bill is intended to protect all religious persuasions, although minority groups say they don’t expect to benefit. “This law is not going to protect anyone; at least not the minorities, and will be a powerful tool against freedom of speech,” said Rusudan Gotsiridze, an Evangelical Baptist bishop, toLiberali.ge.

In the west of the country, Georgian Orthodox congregations have opposed the opening of mosques and madrasas. In a sign of inter-faith tensions, a pig’s head was nailed to the door of a planned Muslim school.

Epiphany celebrations in Georgia in January.
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Epiphany celebrations in Georgia in January. Photograph: Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA

The Georgian ombudsman’s office has expressed doubts about the law. “The current wording proposes the ‘insult of religious feelings’ as the sole criterion for limiting freedom of expression, which … subjects one individual to another’s will and places the believers in a privileged position,” said ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili.

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