Georgia: Police Press Charges against Priests for LGBT Rally Attack

Father Iotam rose to fame as a Georgian Internet meme after being filmed chasing gay-rights activists in Tbilisi with a three-legged stool.

Georgian police on May 23 pressed charges against two priests for participating in a mass disturbance of an anti-homophobia rally in Tbilisi that injured dozens and sparked international censure.

The two priests detained were caught on camera as they participated in the mayhem that erupted on May 17 when a crowd of protesters, including Georgian Orthodox Church priests, broke through a police cordon to disperse a small number of people meeting in a downtown square to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia .

The clash has sparked a sharp debate over the power of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Georgia's most popular institution, and the degree to which the government is prepared to hold priests to account for violating the law. Arresting priests is not a move easily digested within Georgia's highly religious society.

Iotam Basilaia, the father superior at the Iione-Tornike Eristavi Monastery, and Antimoz Bichanashvili, an arch-priest at Tbilisi's Holy Trinity Cathedral, are charged with defying police orders and preventing citizens’ rights to free assembly. The two men may face a fine or even a prison term. Police did not specify if the clerics were being held in jail. 

Basilaia became a Facebook meme after he was filmed chasing gay-rights activists with a three-legged stool -- according to one Netgazeti.ge account, allegedly taken from a woman selling sunflower seeds.

The charges against the two priests were hailed by civil society groups, who are actively campaigning to bring the perpetrators of the May 17 violence to justice. Four laymen were detained earlier on charges of hooliganism and defying police orders, but were released after paying fines of 100 laris ($61.51).

Those charges provoked no public outcry, but the accusations against the priests could irk both believers and members of the highly influential Georgian Orthodox Church's hierarchy.

The Church has condemned the violence, but, at the same time, stressed the undesirability of allowing the rally to take place.

A church spokesperson said that the Patriarchy would comment after more details of the investigation are known.

Georgia: Police Press Charges against Priests for LGBT Rally Attack

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