Strasbourg, France, July 23, 2021
Georgian courts were wrong to fine a condom company for its blasphemous use of religious and historical figure and events on its packaging, according to the European Court of Human Rights.
In May 2018, A Tbilisi City Court fined the company AIISA for “offend[ing] national morality and dignity” with its packaging designs featuring images such as the beloved 12th-13th century ruler of Georgia St. Tamar, and blasphemous references to Orthodox feast days.
The fine of about $200 (500 GEL) was imposed specifically for the misuse of the image of St. Tamar, but the court also ordered the company to recall and discontinue three other designs as well:
A left hand in the shape of a priestly blessing with a condom on two fingers
A photo of a panda with text referencing sinful acts and the great feast of Theophany
Packaging referring to the 12th Century Battle of Didgori between St. King David the Builder and Seljuk Turk forces, which in Georgia is regarded as a historic turning point and respected both by the state and the Church
The George also came to the defense of its saints, accusing the company of “insulting the feelings of believers and manifesting blasphemy,” and “immoral behavior.” However, company owner Anania Gachechiladze continued to boldly mock the Church and its saints.
She then appealed the verdict, but her conviction was upheld by a Georgian appeals court. It was then that she decided to turn to the European Court of Human Rights.
In its ruling, published yesterday, the court mostly sided with Gachechiladze, declaring that Georgian authorities had violated her right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self-fulfillment,” the ruling states.
The judges did, however, agree that the use of the image of St. Tamar “could be seen as a gratuitous insult to the object of veneration for Georgians following the Orthodox Christian faith.”
The Georgian courts’ arguments regarding the other three designs were not strong enough, however, to justify demanding their discontinuation, the European Court ruled.
Gachechiladze did not seek any damages, so none were awarded.
In December 2016, Orthodox faithful in Russia successfully protested plans to build a condom factory near the Bogolyubsky Monastery in the village of Bogolyubovo.