Thursday, February 11, 2016

Proposed anti-blasphemy bill in Georgia gets attention

(Christian Times) - The former Soviet Republic of Georgia is planning a new bill that will legally punish irreverence toward religion. However, concerns have been raised the 'blasphemy bill' could be used against any organization who does not follow the church's principles.

The bill has been approved by committee, and according to The Guardian, is headed for the parliamentary floor. If passed, the bill will impose a fine of 100 lari, equivalent to $120 USD, for insults to religious feeling. The penalty will then be doubled if the offense is committed a second time.

Religious minorities fear the bill may be used to guard the interests of the influential Georgian Orthodox Church. While these minorities agree that all religions should be protected by the law, they are concerned the 'blasphemy bill' will become a tool for discrimination against them.

Baptist Bishop, Rusudan Gotsiridze, said that the law would not protect anyone; at least, not the minorities, and will be a powerful tool against freedom of speech.

Georgian ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili also criticized the law saying that "the current wording proposes the 'insult to 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."

The draft is most likely to be passed in a parliamentary election year. On February 2, the ruling Georgian Dream Coalition endorsed the document at a human rights committee hearing which was snubbed by the minority.

The blasphemy bill has caused division both within and outside the ruling coalition. Tamar Kordzaia, a member of the Georgian Dream coalition has spoken against the bill, saying that it comes short of international human rights standards and would upset the existing balance of civil liberties.

The Georgian Orthodox Church is associated with a pro-Russian and nationalist agenda, giving them much ruling power. Members of the said church have been associated with demonstrations, sometimes violent, against religious minorities such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Pentecostals, and Muslims. Back in September 2014, local Orthodox Christians slaughtered a pig and nailed its head to the front door of a Muslim boarding school to protest its opening.

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