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Baptist leaders protest beatings led by defrocked Orthodox priest

WASHINGTON (BP)–Several members of Central Baptist Church in Tbilisi, Georgia, were beaten in an attack prior to a Jan. 24 gathering in the Euro-Asian country.

“Many people had been invited to this meeting, including parliamentarians, politicians, academicians, diplomats and representatives of all major Christian confessions in Georgia,” said Malkhaz Songulashvili, president of the Evangelical Baptist Union and pastor of the church. “Before all of these people arrived at the church, however, a group of ultra-fundamentalist Orthodox, led by [defrocked priest Basil] Mkalavishvili, started an attack on the church.”

After trying to defend the church by locking the gates, members of the church, on site to prepare for the worship service, were physically and verbally abused. Otar Kalatozishvili, the church’s deputy minister, was “mercilessly beaten” during the attack, Songulashvili reported. After a meeting with the chief of police, it was agreed that the meeting would not be held and all protestors, church members and guests would leave the site.

“Mkalavishvili’s people pretended to leave the place, but instead they started beating our people and robbing them of their personal property,” Songulashvili continued. “After the mob had left, the area police made the necessary investigations and we were able to continue with our service. This attack was an action not only against the Baptist church, but against all Christian churches in Georgia.”

In February 2002, a warehouse used by the church with hundreds of Bibles was destroyed by arson.

The Baptist World Alliance has protested the Jan. 24 attacks in a letter to Eduard Shevardnadze, president of the republic. So has Theo Angelov, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, who wrote, “The authorities must take radical actions, otherwise the result will be devastating. Things that are taking place in Tbilisi and in some other places are now starting to overwhelm the country. The time has come for both authorities and society to raise their voice against religious terrorism.”

Songulashvili, however, noted, “We are more than certain that unless there is serious pressure from Western nations [United States, members of the European Union] nothing is going to be changed. Letters to the U.S. senators and ambassador in Tbilisi will help. It will be also helpful if foreign ministers of European Union countries and their ambassadors in Tbilisi receive letters from different people, churches and organizations.”

Copies of the letters should be sent to Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, 6, Kedia Str., 380054 Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia.

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