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European Rights Body Says Worried by Hate Speech in Georgia

FILE - General view of the plenary session of the Council of Europe during the official opening of the Strasbourg World Forum for Democracy, organized at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Oct. 8, 2012.

The Council of Europe told Georgia on Tuesday to improve its anti-discrimination policies and legislation, saying it was worried by an increase in cases of hate speech and violence against religious and sexual minority groups.

The criticism from the pan-European human rights body comes at a sensitive time for Georgia as it seeks to move closer to NATO and the European Union following Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

"Despite certain progress achieved by Georgia on anti-discrimination policies and legislation, hate speech and violence against some ethnic and religious minorities, as well as LGBT persons have increased over the past years, and the authorities' response has not been sufficient," Christian Ahlund of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance said in a report.

The ECRI welcomed positive developments such as amendments to the criminal code making racist motivation an aggravating circumstance, the passage of a law on eliminating all forms of discrimination and the adoption of a national human rights strategy.

"However, not all sorts of manifestations of and support for racism are criminalized in Georgia, and there is no legislation to suppress the public financing of, or to ban or dissolve, racist political parties or organizations," the report said. "The authorities' response has not been adequate and there is not an effective system for monitoring hate speech."

According to the report there is "a general homo- and transphobic climate in Georgian society and LGBT groups were attacked repeatedly".

Authorities have also failed to enforce the law to safeguard the rights of religious minorities in several cases, it said.

The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, promotes human rights and democracy in Europe and has 47 member states.