After a heated and noisy procedural wrangling between GD and UNM lawmakers, parliamentary session on May 2 launched discussion of package of bills partially decriminalizing for foreign citizens illegal entry into breakaway regions from territories other than those controlled by Tbilisi.
Being strongly against of the proposed bill, UNM lawmakers tried and succeeded in delaying the launch of the session for more than an hour using procedural means.
Although present in the chamber UNM lawmakers refused to undergo registration, which twice resulted into lack of quorum required for opening the session. GD parliamentary majority has now 83 seats in the Parliament, seven more than required for the quorum to open the session, but not all GD MPs were present at the time in the chamber.
“We think that even discussion of [amendment] to the law on occupied territories is shameful and we will use all the levers available to delay these discussions, because weakening law on occupied territories upon Russia’s demands in the condition when there is not a single step is made in direction of de-occupation is shameful and it is our political decision to use any method to avoid it. So we have not undergone registration,” UNM MP Giorgi Gabashvili said.
After a break repeat registration was held, but again failed to garner the quorum and fourth try was required in order to pave the way for the launch of the session. UNM lawmakers, however, claimed the last registration was held in violation of procedures and dispute in the chamber took more time before deputy state minister for reintegration, Keti Tsikhelashvili, was able to present the bill.
According to existing legislation entry into occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for foreign citizens from the areas other than Georgian-controlled territories is a subject of criminal punishment. Violation of this rule will result either into a fine or a jail term from two to four years.
According to the government-proposed amendments to the law on occupied territories, criminal code and administrative code, in case of violation of this rule for the first time a person will be subject to administrative punishment, involving a GEL 400 fine; but in case of repeat violation by the same person, criminal prosecution should apply.
Since 2009 criminal punishment for violation of this rule applied to total of 254 foreign citizens 169 of which were imprisoned and others fined, according to the deputy state minister for reintegration. She said that only one-seventh of those who became subject of criminal punishment were citizens of Russia.
“These people were ordinary citizens, who had nothing to do with occupation of [Georgian territories],” Deputy State Minister for Reintegration Keti Tsikhelashvili said.
UNM lawmakers argue that the proposed bill “weakens” Georgia’s law on occupied territories and represents a bow to Russia. A year ago Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that Moscow would consider lifting visa rules for Georgian citizens in case of repealing by Tbilisi its law on occupied territories.
Reviewing the law on occupied territories has been among EU’s recommendations.
The issue was again raised in recent annual progress report on Implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy, recommending reviewing law on occupied territories, in particular its “restrictive aspects”.
On the conflict-related issues the report, which was released by the European Commission in March 2013, also says: “Following the change of government, there are some encouraging signs of possibly more effective engagement with the breakaway territories, and a more relaxed implementation of the Law on Occupied Territories.”