Youths storm offices of religious freedom group in ex-Soviet Georgia, beating director

TBILISI, Georgia - A dozen youths stormed the offices of a group advocating religious freedom in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, beating its director and other employees, one of the victims said Wednesday.

The unidentified attackers turned over computers and damaged furniture at the Institute of Freedom, an independent non-governmental group that has received funding from Western foundations, employee David Zurabashvili said on Rustavi-2 television. The beaten employees suffered light injuries.

"There has been a strong campaign against our institute recently. I think that the authorities must bear responsibility for what has happened. Lawlessness is reigning in the country," Zurabashvili said.

The Institute of Freedom has publicly criticized lawmaker Guram Sharadze, who has proposed banning Jehovah's Witnesses from Georgia. On Tuesday, Sharadze's supporters organized a rally demanding that the institute publicly apologize to the lawmaker.

The institute also has criticized a defrocked priest who has led book-burning sessions of Jehovah's Witness materials and is linked to violence against minority religious groups in Georgia.

Church leaders in Georgia, Russia and other predominantly Orthodox Christian countries of the former Soviet Union have decried the influx of foreign religious groups since the 1991 Soviet collapse. Several non-Orthodox groups have struggled to be recognized as official religious denominations in Georgia.