Several NGOs and lawyers in Georgia have written to Georgian and international government bodies concerning religious freedom in the country, in response to proposed changes made by the Government of Georgia to the country’s constitution.
The constitutional reform project reworded the limitations of religious freedom and considered the following cases in which religious freedom can be restricted: “national security or public safety, for the prevention of crime, protection of health, administration of justice or protection of the rights of others.”
The government bodies addressed in the letter from the NGOs include the Parliament of Georgia, the President of Georgia, the Venice Commission, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.
The authors of the address consider that the proposed constitutional changes threaten the defense of religious freedom in Georgia and create a high risk of improper interference.
“The state [Georgia], instead of narrowing the restrictions (as recommended by the Venice Commission), broadened them, even more so, to such an extent that went above and beyond the restrictions specified in Article 9 (Freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the signatories write.
“The new wording is oriented on creating a broad range of grounds allowing disproportionate interference with and restriction of the freedom of religion that may build a basis for the political legitimization of discrimination against religious associations.”
The signatories have assessed negatively Article 8 of the constitutional reform project, which outlines that freedom of religion and the special role of the Georgian Orthodox Church are considered equal.
The statement adds that the “new provision of the Draft Constitution can be read differently and create grounds for the assumption that the State restricted freedom of religion and belief through recognizing the role of the Orthodox Church. Such formulation of the provision is a step towards deterioration of human rights standards.”
The authors ask that the addressed organizations do everything in their power to prevent the constitutional changes from worsening the defense of religious freedom.
In connection with the constitutional changes, members of Georgia’s Council of Religions have distributed this address.