Parliament passed legislative amendments that broaden the scope and range of offences and other activities linked to participation in illegal armed groups during its second reading on May 29.
It also criminalizes traveling abroad and an attempt to go abroad for the purpose of terrorism.
Deputy Interior Minister Levan Izoria told lawmakers on April 15 while debating the package during the first parliamentary hearing that the government started drafting these bills last year with the cooperation of the country’s Western partners to address cases of Georgian citizens joining the Islamic State group fighters in Syria.
He said that the radicalization of youth in Pankisi gorge in north-eastern Georgia, predominantly populated by the Muslim community of Kists, is a serious challenge. Izoria also acknowledged that stricter legislation won’t be enough to address this challenge and that the state should also provide other measures aimed at fostering “integration of locals to the society.”
According to the bill, the “dissemination or use of information materials and/or symbols related to membership and/or participation in illegal formation”, if this action creates an “obvious, direct and substantive threat”, will be punishable with up to 3 years in jail.
The bill specifies that the measures should be applied in connection to those armed formations that are not controlled by state structures. Officials say that this provision was added in order to make it more explicit that the bill will not apply to Georgian citizens fighting on the Ukrainian side in eastern Ukraine.
The bill introduces a new clause that will make going abroad or attempting to go abroad “for the purpose of carrying out, preparing of and participating in terrorist activities or for the purpose of terrorist training” punishable by 6 to 9 years imprisonment.
The bill also envisages the 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.”
Vote on Provision Criminalizing ‘Calls for Violent Actions’ Delayed
The same package of criminal code amendments also includes a proposal criminalizing “calls for violent actions” that aim to cause “discord between racial, religious, national, ethnic, social, linguistic or other groups” in the event of such calls creating an “obvious, direct and substantive threat.”
This proposal causes concern of rights groups that, if approved, it might be misused by the authorities for restricting freedom of expression.
Just before the vote, GD and opposition UNM lawmakers announced that as a result of consultations, which also included Interior Ministry representatives, it was agreed to continue work on the wording of the provision. As a result this part of the package was not put on vote.