A government-backed draft amendment to the criminal code has been submitted to the Parliament, which, if approved, will make “calls, inciting strife” a criminal offence.
Amendments are part of a broader package of bills, drafted by the Interior Ministry, which also involves a proposal to criminalize participation in and range of other activities related to illegal armed groups abroad, as well as traveling abroad for terrorism purpose.
The proposed bill reads that “calls inciting strife, i.e. public calls for violent actions, made verbally, in written or through other forms of expression and aimed at causing enmity or discord between racial, religious, national, ethnic, social, linguistic or other groups, shall be punished with imprisonment from 2 to 5 years.”
According to the bill, if “strife” between ethnic, religious or various other groups results into “grave consequences”, including serious injuries to human health or death, the calls for “inciting strife” in this case shall be punished with imprisonment from 5 to 15 years.
If “strife-inciting calls” are made by a legal entity, it should carry “liquidation” of such entity or depriving it the right to operate as a punishment, along with a financial penalty, according to the proposed bill.
The bill is already causing controversy with some rights groups fearing over its consequences on freedom of expression.
Deputy Interior Minister Levan Izoria has argued that the proposed bill poses no threat whatsoever to freedom of expression.
“It is about violent calls that may lead to violence,” Izoria said.
“Therefore, it does not contain any risk of limiting freedom of speech, media freedom – that’s ruled out. The only goal [of the bill] is to ensure freedom of expression and at the same time public safety and peace,” the deputy interior minister told journalists on January 20.