Public Defender Calls on Government to Protect Equality of Religious Associations when Imposing Pandemic-related Restrictions
On December 21, 2020, the Public Defender of Georgia addressed the Government of Georgia with a general proposal and called on it to take into account the needs of religious organizations within the framework of regulations against coronavirus.
The proposal was based on the decision of the Government of Georgia, according to which, movement and presence in public space between 21:00 and 05:00 has been restricted from November 28, 2020 to January 31, 2021; It should be noted that the restriction does not apply to Christmas night - January 6, while other religious holidays which may also be celebrated overnight in the same period are not mentioned in the statement issued by the Government. In addition, the media reported that religious organizations must submit lists to the State in order to perform Christmas services and obtain a one-time permit. The general proposal also refers to the issue of use of passes by non-dominant religious groups during restrictions imposed on vehicles during the first phase of the pandemic in April 2020.
According to the Public Defender, it is important that the regulations imposed by the State be equally applied to all religious associations, so that they can exercise their freedom of religion on an equal basis. It is inadmissible to give preference to exclusively one religious association and to obscure the legitimacy of deprivation of the same right for other associations. The State should make such decisions as a result of active communication with various religious organizations.
Based on the above, the Public Defender called on the Government of Georgia to consider the possibility of allowing exceptions on religious holidays that may be celebrated overnight; Any restrictions and respective exceptions should be based on a non-discriminatory approach that meets the requirements of equality and state neutrality; In addition, information should be proactively provided to religious associations about exceptions, active consultations should be held with all religious organizations and their interests should be taken into account when considering exceptions within the framework of freedom of religion.