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Georgian LGBT Organisation Requests ‘Hate Crime’ Label for Brutal Murder

Discourse about LGBT rights in Georgia is frequently heated. Wikipedia image.

Discourse about LGBT rights in Georgia is frequently heated. Wikipedia image.

In a statement released today on their website, Georgian LGBT rights group Identoba have called on the authorities to investigate the alleged murder of a transgender woman as a hate crime. Police discovered the body of 25 year-old salon worker, Beqa B. (known to friends as Sabi), in a burnt-out apartment in central Tbilisi on Monday night and are investigating the case as one of ‘pre-meditated murder’. 

The statement from Identoba, an organisation on the forefront of LGBT activism in Georgia, reads:

In our opinion, the police are almost always trying not to qualify homophobic-motivated crimes as such and an investigation of classic premeditated murder, hooliganism or some other article is used to make it seem that the offender committed the offence in aggravated circumstances, so as not to bear the burden [of the crime]. Therefore, ‘Identoba’ calls on the Ministry of Internal Affairs not to publicize details of the victim's personal life, including name and other identifying marks, but at the same time, since the crime emerged in the public interest, we request that they announce clearly whether the case bears signs of being a hate crime.

Although there are frequent cases of violence against transgender people, not only in Georgia but also in the [rest of the] world, which are often fatal, in Georgia the qualifications bestowed on hate crimes remains an insurmountable problem. However, the media are generally not interested in the fact that the crime itself is horrific, but are notorious for their interest instead in the alleged victim's orientation and gender identity. This has been corroborated by dozens of media representatives’ questions [directed to us] about the victim's sexual orientation, in which they only ask for confirmation [that the victim was LGBT]. We appeal to media outlets not to make the tragedy and controversy a tabloid story. Every human life is precious regardless of the person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

While there is no hate crime legislation in Georgia, Article 53 of the Georgian Criminal Code permits judges to increase sentences based on aggravating circumstances. Public hostility towards LGBT issues and individuals in Georgia is fairly widespread, however. Earlier in 2014, the adoption of anti-discrimination legislation was protested by conservative and religious groups, who held that outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation was tantamount to ‘propagandising homosexuality’. In May 2013, an anti-homophobia rally in central Tbilisi was violently disrupted by thousands of counter-protesters led by Orthodox clergy. In the aftermath, the city saw a spike in homophobic violence. A survey conducted later in the year revealed that 50% of Georgians believe violence against LGBT individuals is justified. 

Georgian tabloid news site Ambebi.ge has already published a story about the private life of Beqa B., which, according to the head of Identoba, Irakli Vacharadze, could impact negatively on the investigation into the case. Speaking to Global Voices by telephone, Vacharadze, said:

There is a twisted logic in Georgian media. The police should be interested in someone's gender identity or sexual orientation because it will have an implication for the qualification of the case …. Georgian media should care about human lives, right? But they never care about this …. all of them are asking this unbelievable question “Can you confirm that this person was LGBT?”…. they just want to confirm that this person belong to this category or group. And this is all that matters …. 

The news of Sabi's alleged murder has been met with concern by some social media users, but has provoked sarcasm and derision from others. One user commented:”How can you kill someone – regardless of who they are?” 

But echoing a trend towards viewing crimes against LGBT groups ambivalently, another Twitter user was somewhat less sensitive, asking: “Who fell down [ie died], a man or a woman?”

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