Although revised, bill envisaging criminalization of “calls for violent actions” still poses risk of being misused by the authorities for restricting freedom of expression and should not be adopted, rights groups said in a statement on April 17.
The bill is part of a package of legislative amendments to criminal code, which also includes measures broadening scope of the offenses linked broad range of activities related to illegal armed groups abroad, as well as criminalization of traveling abroad and an attempt to go abroad for the purpose of terrorism.
According to the bill “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” will be punishable with imprisonment for up to two years. If this offense is committed 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 bill.
The bill, drafted by the Interior Ministry, was first submitted to the Parliament for consideration in January and its initial version envisaged criminalization of “calls, inciting strife”, which was slammed by the rights groups. In an attempt to allay concerns, the bill was revised, removing the controversial wording and adding that “calls for violent actions” should be considered a criminal offense if such calls pose “obvious, direct and substantive threat.”
“Although the bill has undergone some changes since it was first initiated… it still contains serious threat for freedom of expression,” reads the joint statement by eleven human rights, legal advocacy and watchdog groups.
It says that taking into view authorities’ “ineffective” and “completely passive” stance in tackling and preventing hate-motivated offenses against minority groups, government’s declared motivation behind the bill to protect vulnerable groups “lacks credibility.” The statement notes that Georgia’s criminal code already envisages making the racial, religious, sexual orientation or other bias motives of an offender an aggravating circumstance, but this clause is rarely used in practice.
It also says that the wording of the bill – such as “calls for violent actions” and inciting “discord” – is “vague” thus “open to broad interpretation and arbitrary application.” The rights groups say that instead of considering vulnerable groups as subject of protection, the bill envisages “vague” addressing of inciting discord between the groups, which “we believe exposes a real intention of authors of the bill to impose unjustified restriction on freedom of expression and critical views.”
“We call on the Georgian Parliament… not to adopt this regulation no matter of how its content may be amended,” reads the statement, adding that instead of taking new regulations, the state should apply efficiently already existing ones against hate-motivated crimes and for protection of minority groups.
The statement was signed by Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association; Transparency International Georgia; International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy; Institute for Development of Freedom of Information; Identoba; Tolerance and Diversity Institute; Article 42 of the Constitution; Charter of Journalistic Ethics; Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center; Georgian Democracy Initiative and Media Development Foundation.