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Supporters of defrocked priest holding rally in Tbilisi

Interfax, Russian Federation
Mar. 21, 2004 • Monday March 22, 2004

TBILISI. March 21 (Interfax) – Supporters of Vasil Mkalavishvili, a defrocked priest of the Georgian Orthodox Church who has been detained by the police, are holding a rally in front of Ortachala prison in Tbilisi, where Mkalavishvili’s closed trial has begun.

The protesters describe Mkalavishvili as a political prisoner and demand his immediate release.

Mkalavishvili and seven supporters were detained on March 12 in a church in the Gldani district, which Mkalavishvili had built himself. Eighteen people suffered serious injuries during a large- scale detention operation.

For the past three years, Mkalavishvili and his nearly 1,000 supporters have been persecuting religious sects, primarily the Jehovah’s Witnesses. About 100 beatings of the sect’s members, book-burnings and other incidents have been reported to the police.

In autumn 2003, a Tbilisi district court sentenced Mkalavishvili to three months in a pretrial detention facility, but he managed to escape.

The Georgian Justice Ministry told Interfax that the trial is proceeding in the prison to avoid conflicts or provocation.

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