TBILISI -- The U.S. State Department and Amnesty International have called on the Georgian authorities to guarantee the safety of participants in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) "Tbilisi Pride" activities that have been scheduled this week in the capital.
The precautions must be taken in the face of "unprecedented threats of violence, including from homophobic groups," Amnesty, a London-based human rights watchdog, said in a statement on June 18.
Amnesty, which said it will send an international monitoring team to the events, said that "Georgian officials have a positive obligation to take all necessary measures to protect the Tbilisi Pride march from attacks."
The State Department said the "United States will continue to urge Georgian authorities to protect all citizens regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."
It said the United States was "deeply concerned about reported threats targeting" the LGBT community ahead of a planned Pride parade and that "we categorically condemn the persecution of individuals for any reason, including their sexual orientation or gender identity."
'March Of Dignity'
Georgia's first-ever Tbilisi Pride week, set for June 18-23, has a series of events scheduled in the capital, including theatrical performances and an international conference. It is expected to culminate in a "March of Dignity" parade, organizers said.
The event in the conservative South Caucasus nation comes six years after a rally against homophobia was disrupted by a crowd of religious figures and thousands of protesters in 2013, with some participants being beaten and most forced to flee for their safety.
Earlier this month, Georgian police detained at least eight people as conservative activists faced off with gay and lesbian protesters who rallied outside a government building demanding more support and protection from government officials.
Several Orthodox priests marched with signs reading: "If homosexuals do not repent, they all go to hell."
The head of Georgia's Orthodox Church demanded that activists call off the Pride events, saying they would offend Georgian society and would provoke violence from opponents.
Amnesty also cited threats from "a homophobic group led by a local businessman who has close links to the Georgian Orthodox Church," which the watchdog said, "is planning a violent counterdemonstration to stop the Tbilisi Pride march from going ahead."
Tbilisi Pride promoters said in a statement that "despite the existing risks, the first 'March of Dignity' in the history of Georgia is in force and we are not going to cancel it."
On June 18, a group of 14 Georgian civil society organizations called on the country's leaders and the Ministry of Interior to investigate threats against the LGBT community and to take "preventative measures" to allow participants to exercise their freedom of expression during Pride week.
Georgia has passed antidiscrimination laws in an effort to move closer to the European Union, but homophobia remains widespread, LGBT rights groups have said.
Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze has denied that gay people face discrimination in the country, telling a news conference that LGBT culture was being forced on Georgian society to heighten tensions.