The Bishop of Coventry received the following written answer on 9th January 2023:
The Lord Bishop of Coventry asked His Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Georgia, if any, for the release from prison on health grounds of Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of that country.
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The Bishop of Leeds asked a question regarding the government’s response to money laundering relating to Russia, during a debate on Russian activities in Georgia on 16th November 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, referring back to the original Question, have the Government made any assessment of how corrupt wealth is being laundered to get around sanctions in Russia by pushing the money through places such as Georgia?
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The Lord Bishop of Wakefield asked Her Majesty’s Government: what representations they are making to the Government of Georgia regarding Islamophobia in that country; and what steps they are taking to ensure freedom of religion and the rights of minority groups there.
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, the UK raises human rights issues on a regular basis with the Georgian Government, both bilaterally and through multilateral institutions such as the EU, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. We have not made any recent representations regarding Islamophobia, but we continue to follow minority rights closely, including through our embassy’s work in Tbilisi and its regional travel. We fund a local NGO to maintain an inter-religion working group, which involves a variety of faith groups, including Muslims.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, last year, I was fortunate to spend a couple of nights with a Muslim family in Batumi, and the next morning I met the president of the semi-autonomous region there, Mr Archil Khabadze. I pressed the question to him of why there was only one mosque for something like 110,000 out of the 150,000 people, that being the number of Muslims in the city. He said that at that time they would take immediate steps to find more land made available for Muslims in that city. I said that I would be coming back in the next three months to open the mosque with other religious groups. Would Her Majesty’s Government please press the authorities to make sure that the local administration there is asked to fulfil the promise that they made; otherwise, these very open Muslims will soon become radicalised.
Baroness Warsi: The right reverend Prelate raises a really important issue. His Question prompted me to go away and do some research, and I was quite intrigued to find out that just over 10% of Georgia’s population are indeed Muslim—a much larger percentage than in our own communities. The right reverend Prelate will be aware that one of the challenges in Georgia is that the Muslim community is not particularly well engaged politically and therefore does not really put its head above the parapet. I have become aware of low-level discrimination and tensions towards the Muslim community there, but as Georgia moves towards closer EU integration part of its requirement is to fulfil its obligation to bring in anti-discrimination laws.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current situation in Georgia
The Bishop of Wakefield asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as the Church of England’s lead bishop on Georgian affairs. Last year, I had the good fortune to meet the outgoing President Saakashvili and, independently, some of his associates. I then met a number of members of the present Government. The antagonism could be felt in both directions and was seriously affecting stability and development. The previous Government had done some good work on corruption, tax collection and so on. If the economy is to prosper, the next thing that needs to happen is a building up of the infrastructure. Can Her Majesty’s Government assure noble Lords that the new Government will do that?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, on my last visit to Tbilisi I had lunch with MPs from both the governing party and the opposition party. That would not have been possible in Armenia or Azerbaijan. One has to put these things in perspective. Yes, of course we are assisting with developing the infrastructure in Georgia. The European neighbourhood partnership is putting a lot of money into Georgia and, of course, BP and other foreign investors are also assisting with the development of the country.