Georgian LGBTQ campaigners cancelled their “March for Dignity” Pride event in Tbilisi on Monday after counterprotesters stormed and ransacked their offices.
The Tbilisi Pride group accused the government of failing to protect people’s “fundamental rights” amid the unrest, during which campaigners and journalists were reportedly attacked, according to local media.
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It was not immediately clear how many people had been injured, or to what extent.
Campaigners posted photos and videos on social media which appeared to show a mob breaking into Tbilisi Pride’s premises and tearing up a Pride flag in front of a crowd outside the building.
Activists had launched five days of Pride celebrations last Thursday, shrugging off criticism from the church and conservatives who said the events had no place in Georgia.
While authorities had promised to protect the marchers on Monday, prominent community leaders and Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili had spoken out against the rally.
Tbilisi Pride said it could not proceed with Monday’s march in “streets full of oppressors” supported by the government, Orthodox Church leaders and anti-LGBTQ forces, warning to do so would “risk people’s lives”, local media reported.
PM warns of ‘civil confrontation’
Hours earlier, Garibashvili claimed the “majority” of people were opposed to the march.
He warned the event risked creating “civil confrontation” and accused opposition politician and former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his opposition United National Movement (UNM) party of organising the march in a bid to sow “unrest” in the country, local media reported.
Giorgi Tabagari, Tbilisi Pride’s director, denounced the prime minister’s claims as “unbelievable”.
“Shameful statement and highly irresponsible of PM, it only worsens the already tense situation,” he tweeted.
Shameful statement and highly irresponsible of PM, it only worsens the already tense situation. #Georgia
— Giorgi Tabagari (@Tabagari) July 5, 2021
Tabagari told the AFP news agency he had hoped the march would be of “historic importance and demonstrate that attitudes towards sexual minorities are fortunately transforming in Georgia”.
“We feel growing solidarity from Georgian society and from politicians, but there are still violent homophobic groups,” he said.
‘Failure of the state’
Social views have become increasingly liberal in Georgia in recent years and there have been several Pride events.
But the country remains deeply conservative, with the powerful Orthodox Church having clashed with previous Western-leaning governments over social issues.
The church had called on supporters to gather on Monday afternoon for a public prayer against the Pride march.
Last week, United States and European Union diplomatic missions in Georgia, as well the embassies of 16 more countries, issued a joint statement urging the Georgian government “to secure the right to peaceful assembly for all people in Georgia without exception”.
NGOs slammed Georgian officials over their failure to prevent Monday’s violence.
Giorgi Gogia, associate director for Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, said the forced cancellation marked a “big step backward” and accused authorities of having “condoned and tolerated” the situation.
Transparency International’s Georgia branch claimed at least 20 journalists had been attacked in the unrest.
“It could be said that their [the government’s] inaction is an encouragement for further violence against the media,” the group said.