The Inclusive Foundation, a gay rights group based in the eastern European country of Georgia, was raided by police earlier this month and its leader arrested.
The foundation is the Georgian member organisation of ILGA-Europe, a European NGO working for gay and lesbian rights.
According to Inclusive Foundation, the December 15th raid was carried out unlawfully. It said that the five armed police officers did not wear uniforms, provided no search warrant, did not identify themselves and did not explain the reason for the raid.
A statement from the foundation read: “Members of the LGBT community were present in the office during the raid for a regular meeting of the Women’s Club. The men confiscated cell phones of all those present in the office, did not allow them to contact their families, and made degrading and humiliating remarks, such as ‘perverts’, ‘sick persons’, Satanists.
“They threatened to take photos of the women and disseminate them to reveal their sexual orientation. They also threatened ‘to kill’ and ‘tear to pieces’ one of the leaders of the organisation, Eka Agdgomelashvili, if she did not stop demanding the search warrant and identification documents of the police.”
Women present were allegedly strip-searched in a bathroom by female officers and witnesses said they had been subjected to homophobic insults.
The statement added that Paata Sabelashvili, a board member of ILGA-Europe and leader of the Inclusive Foundation, was arrested. He admitted possession of eight grams of marijuana but Inclusive Foundation claimed this confession was “highly suspicious” and said he made it before seeing his lawyer. Sabelashvili is apparently still in custody.
It said that one officer introduced himself as an Operative Officer of the Constitutional Security Department of the Ministry of Interior Giorgi Gegechkori. However, at the pre-trial hearing of Sabelashvili, he identified himself as Investigator David Khidesheli, the foundation claimed.
The group said its members continued to be under police surveillance.
In a statement, ILGA-Europe said Georgian police “clearly had homophobic motives” and demanded the release of Sabelashvili.
Linda Freimane, co-chair of the executive board, said: “We are very troubled by this news. The information we have received from Georgia indicates that the police acted disproportionately and completely ignored basic rule of law. Moreover, we are extremely concerned about the safety of Paata Sabelashvili, who is not allowed any contact with the outside world.”
Martin K I Christensen, the other co-chair, added: “ILGA-Europe is in very close contact with our member organisation in Georgia and monitors the situation. We are compiling the facts and details so we can bring this shocking situation to the attention of various European institutions and eventually ensure that Georgian authorities behave in accordance with the rule or law and agreed international human rights standards. We will be releasing any further information as soon as we have more details.”
Georgia is a highly religious country which prides itself on its traditional Christian values.
Although homosexuality was decriminalised in 2000, gay people are still violently targeted and are seen as immoral.
In 2007, a rally celebrating diversity and tolerance in the country was cancelled after it was falsely reported as a gay Pride parade.
The rally, part of the Council of Europe’s ‘All Different, All Equal’ diversity and human rights campaign, was called off when organisers, Georgian human rights group Century 21, received abusive telephone calls, emails and threats of violence.