Government plans to initiate draft of legislative amendments to decriminalize entry into breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from territories other than those controlled by Tbilisi, Paata Zakareishvili, the state minister for reintegration, said on February 7.
Law on occupied territories makes it illegal for foreign citizens to enter into breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Russia; the law defines the legal entrance points to Abkhazia from the direction of Zugdidi and in case of South Ossetia from Gori. The law also sets whole set of exceptions from this rule.
Violation of this provision of the law can result either into a fine or a jail term from two to four years and violation of this law for multiple times or in a group can result into prison term from three to five years, according to existing provisions of the criminal code.
A proposal to decriminalize illegal entry into the occupied territories, Zakareishvili said, would mean making it an administrative offense subject to financial penalty instead of prison term. He, however, also said that repeat violation of the law would still carry criminal prosecution.
The state minister for reintegration also said that the government had no intention to abolish this law, adopted by the previous authorities few months after the August, 2008 war with Russia.
“Our opponents have often been accusing us of having an intention to abolish this law [on occupied territories]; that’s not the case. We have always been saying that this law would remain and its title would not be changed,” Zakareishvili said.
European Commission’s annual report on implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy, released last May, called on Georgia to review its law on occupied territories; it said that the continued application of this law “remained a concern for the effectiveness of the engagement strategy” with the breakaway regions.
In March, 2012 after Georgia unilaterally lifted visa requirements for the Russian citizens, Moscow said that it was ready to reciprocate, but called on Georgia to revise its “notorious” law on occupied territories. The Russian Foreign Ministry said at the time that law on occupied territories was making Russian citizens, who had traveled to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, subject to criminal prosecution upon the arrival in Georgia.