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Bill Against Involvement with Illegal Armed Groups Abroad Discussed
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 17 Apr.'15 / 17:09

Parliament discussed this week with its first reading legislative amendments broadening scope of the offenses linked to participation in and range of other activities related to illegal armed groups, as well as criminalizing traveling abroad and an attempt to go abroad for the purpose of terrorism.
 
Package of amendments to the criminal code also includes a bill criminalizing “calls for violent actions” aimed at causing “discord between racial, religious, national, ethnic, social, linguistic or other groups” if such calls create “obvious, direct and substantive threat.”

The Parliament was expected to vote on the package on April 17, but the legislative body failed to hold a session due to lack of quorum after opposition UNM lawmakers refused to undergo registration in protest over an issue, unrelated to this or other legislative proposal, which were scheduled to be discussed or voted at Friday’s session.

Deputy interior minister, Levan Izoria, told lawmakers on April 15, when the package was debated in the Parliament with its first hearing, that the government started drafting of these bills last year in cooperation with country’s western partners to address cases of joining Georgian citizens to Islamic State group fighters in Syria.

He said that radicalization of youth in Pankisi gorge – north-eastern Georgia predominantly populated by Muslim community of Kists – is a serious challenge for the country. Izoria also acknowledged that tightening of the legislation won’t be enough for addressing this challenge and the state should also provide for other measures aimed at fostering “integration of locals to the society.”

Although radicalization trend in Pankisi is not a new development, the issue became a topic of broad public discussion recently, especially after it was reported earlier this month that two schoolboys from Pankisi gorge, one aged 16, left for Syria to join IS group.

There are no precise figures on number of Georgian citizens fighting for the IS group; some estimates put the figure in dozens, mostly from Pankisi gorge but also some from Adjara and Kvemo Kartli regions, and some estimates suggest there are more than 100 Georgian citizens.

PM Garibashvili said on April 16 that about “100 residents of Pankisi left for Syria before we [GD coalition] came into power” in late 2012. “After we came into power only few young people from Pankisi went to Turkey and then probably moved to Syria,” Garibashvili told journalists on April 16 and called on them not to make “scandal” because of “two or three people.”

“Relevant agencies know very well those groups, several people, who stir up situation in Pankisi, and they will neutralize these groups in line with the law,” he said.

Before these remarks by the PM, a senior lawmaker from GD ruling coalition, Irakli Sesiashvili, who chairs parliamentary committee for defense and security, said on April 14 that estimates about more than 100 Georgian citizens being among IS fighters are exaggerated. He said that actual number is no more than “two-three dozens.” MP Sesiashvili also said without providing details that there were cases when some Georgian citizens returned back as a result of efforts from the “relevant” Georgian authorities. 

According to the bill, which was first tabled in January and revised since then, “joining and/or participation in an illegal formation or receiving training from such formation; recruiting or training a person with the purpose of joining, participating or otherwise promoting the activities of such illegal formation” will be punishable with imprisonment from 3 to 7 years, instead of initially proposed 5 to 10 years. Public calls for committing these offenses, if this call creates “obvious, direct and substantive threat”, will be punishable with imprisonment for up to 2 years.

According to the bill “dissemination or use of information materials and/or symbols related to membership and/or participation in illegal formation” if this action creates “obvious, direct and substantive threat” will be punishable with up to 3 years in jail.

The bill envisages release from criminal liability for persons, who will “voluntarily” give up participation in or other activities related to illegal formations. During the discussions, UNM lawmaker Tariel Londaridze offered to set a deadline and apply release from criminal liability if a person gives up illegal activities, listed by the bill, within a set timeframe. The Deputy Interior Minister said that the proposal will discussed during the second hearing of the bill.

The revised version of the bill specifies that the measures should be applied in connection to those “illegal formations”, which are out of state structures’ control. During the discussions Deputy Interior Minister Izoria reiterated that the provisions envisaged by the bill will not apply to those Georgian citizens who fight on the Ukrainian side in eastern Ukraine.

The bill will introduce a new clause, which will make it punishable by 6 years to 9 years imprisonment traveling abroad or an attempt to go abroad “for the purpose of carrying out, preparing of and participating in terrorist activities or for the purpose of terrorist training.”

The bill also envisages criminalization of calls for terrorism or voicing public support for terrorism if such calls create “obvious, direct and substantive threat of carry out terrorism activities.”

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