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Friday 8 November 2019

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Several hundred far-right activists clashed with police in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, as they tried to block the premiere of a critically acclaimed Swedish-Georgian gay-themed film which premiered amid a heavy police presence.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Amirani Cinema in the capital,Tbilisi, on November 8, chanting "Long live Georgia!" and "Shame!" before burning the rainbow flag while an Orthodox priest recited a prayer.

Some tried to force their way into the cinema but were held back by riot police that cordoned off the premises.

Protesters Clash With Police At Gay-Themed Film Premier In Tbilisi
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One young woman trying to go watch the movie was hit by a stone and taken away in an ambulance, local media reported.

Police said they arrested 12 people, one over the stone-throwing incident and 11 for trying to force their way into the cinema.

The movie, And Then We Danced -- Sweden's official Oscar submission in the best international feature film category -- is a love story about two male dancers in Georgia's national ballet ensemble.

The film has won worldwide critical acclaim but was denounced by Georgia's Orthodox Church as an "affront to traditional Georgian values."

The cinema let ticket holders inside for the evening premiere and then shut the doors.

Sandro Bregadze, a former junior minister in the ruling Georgian Dream party's government, said earlier this week that his nationalist Georgian March organization would not allow the film to be showed in Tbilisi, calling it "propaganda of sodomy."

"Some far right groups and the Church have basically condemned the film and are planning to stop people from entering the sold-out screenings," the film's director Levan Akin, a Swede with Georgian roots, wrote on his Facebook page earlier on November 8.

Georgia's Interior Ministry issued a statement, promising to ensure "the protection of public safety and order, as well as the freedom of self-expression."

The ministry said its units remain deployed with the purpose of protecting public safety and order.

Homosexuality was banned in Georgia after the country was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1921 and it is still highly stigmatized in the socially conservative Caucasus nation.

Homosexuality was only decriminalized in 2000, with anti-discrimination laws adopted in 2006.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said Washington was "disturbed and dismayed" by a 6-year prison sentence given recently to Sergei Klimov, a Russian Jehovah's Witness.

The U.S. State Department has called on Russia to release all jailed Jehovah's Witnesses in the country, saying "they pose no threat" and that Russian authorities should "respect their right to worship in peace."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus issued the call on Twitter, saying Washington was "disturbed and dismayed" by a 6-year prison sentence given recently to Sergei Klimov, a Russian member of the religious group.

Ortagus said in the November 7 tweet that Klimov was "the 8th #JehovahsWitness jailed in Russia for peaceful religious practice."

Russia banned the Jehovah's Witnesses in April 2017 and deemed it an "extremist organization," a designation the U.S. State Department says is "wrong."

Klimov was found guilty on November 5 by a court in the Siberian city of Tomsk of being an "extremist" leader.

Klimov admitted at his trial that he was a Jehovah’s Witness, but he denied that he was a leader of the group. His lawyer said the court's ruling will be appealed.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the court rendered its verdict based solely on Russian law and would not comment further on Klimov's case.

In September, two high-ranking regional officers in Russia's Investigative Committee were banned from entering the United States for allegedly torturing seven Jehovah’s Witness believers.

The religious group said in September that 251 of its members faced criminal charges. Of those, 41 were either in pretrial detention or prison, 23 were under house arrest, and more than 100 had their freedom restricted.

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized 29 Jehovah's Witnesses charged with or convicted of extremism as political prisoners.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion by Russia authorities for decades over the views of its members about military service, voting, and government authority in general.

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