Georgia drops 'blasphemy bill' which sought to ban religious insults

Georgia has dropped a proposed anti-blasphemy bill due to political strife, despite it having been conditionally approved by the parliament's human rights committee.

The Georgian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral in the capital, Tblisi.Reuters

According to EurasiaNet, the draft was dividing the ruling Georgia Dream coaltion. Parliamentarian Soso Jachvliani therefore decided to withdraw his proposal on February 15, saying that it needed more work.

Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili said the legislature has stopped discussion of the proposed law.

The bill stated that it aimed to protect all religions, punishing irreverence toward religions by law.

It proposed imposing a fine of 100 lari (around £80) for "insults to religious feelings", with the figure doubled for a repeat offence. Desecrating a religious symbol could result in a fine of 1,000 lari (£800), about the figure of the average monthly salary.

There were fears among religious minorities that it would be used to guard the interests of the powerful Georgian Orthodox Church and would be used as a tool of discrimination.

"This law is not going to protect anyone; at least not the minorities, and will be a powerful tool against freedom of speech," Rusudan Gotsiridze, a Baptist bishop, told

Criticism of the bill also came from within the Orthodox church. One Georgian Orthodox priest, Deacon Tamaz Lomidze, based in Germany said in a sermon: "Who can define religious feelings? What judge can rule on whether a certain action is insulting to to someone's religion?"

Amnesty International said it feared that the bill threatened to "outlaw criticism of religious leaders and institutions, and suppress free speech on topical political and social issues."

The Georgian Orthodox Church is extremely powerful in the country and is associated with a pro-Russian and nationalist agenda. Its members have been associated with protests, sometimes violent, against Muslims and other religious minorities such as Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses and Jews.

According to the Tolerance and Diversity Institute, in September 2014 in Kobuleti in the Adjara region, local Orthodox Christians slaughtered a pig and nailed its head to the front door of a Muslim boarding school to protest its opening.