After drawn-out debates the Parliament passed on May 17 with its first reading package of bills on partial decriminalization of and easing sanctions for illegal entry to breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Lawmakers required four parliamentary sittings to finally put the package on vote because of a procedural war waged by the UNM parliamentary minority group, which used every procedural opportunity to protract discussions.
UNM, which is strongly against of the proposed bill, said by resorting to this tactic they wanted to drag out the process as much as possible in order to delay passing of the bill and to win more time for debating and attracting more public attention to this, as they put it, “shameful” proposal of the government.
According to existing legislation entry into occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for foreign citizens from the areas other than Georgian-controlled territories is a subject of criminal punishment. Violation of this rule will result either into a fine or a jail term from two to four years; but if this rule is violated in aggravated circumstances such as committing this crime in group, for multiple times, with use of force or threat of force, the law envisages prison term from three to five years of imprisonment.
According to proposed bill, first case of violation of the rule should envisage administrative punishment, instead of criminal responsibility, in a form of GEL 400 fine. In case of a repeat violation of this rule by the same person, sanctions under the criminal code will have to apply, but sanction will again be financial penalty in an amount of not less than GEL 800. Imprisonment should only apply in case of repeat violation of this rule only if this crime is committed in aggravated circumstances such as in group, with use of force or threat of force – in such cases term of imprisonment, according to the bill, should be one year, instead of current prison term from three to five years.
One of the UNM’s objections about the bill is that it will make differentiated legal approach to violators of Georgian state borders – having administrative punishment for violating rules of entry to the occupied territories and having criminal punishment for violating of those sections of the border, which are under Tbilisi’s control. GD says that such differentiated approach is already envisaged by existing legislation, because although both of these violations are now subject of criminal punishment, two separate articles of criminal code apply to them.
In the last stage of debates UNM said it would agree on mitigating sanctions, but offered GD to make such amendments that would eliminate differentiated legal approach between entry rules into occupied territories and violation of border in rest of the sections.
Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Usupashvili, said before the vote on May 18, that an agreement had been reached with UNM to set up a working group that will draft separate legislative amendments to address the need for unified legal approach to the issue of border violation.
In case of an agreement on this issue within the working group, Usupashvili said, separate bill would be initiated in the Parliament for consideration. UNM MP Giorgi Gabashvili expressed hope that the agreement would be possible within the working group; he, however, also said that agreement to engage in the working group did not mean that UNM was supporting the proposed bill on partial decriminalization of the entry rules into the occupied territories. The agreement, however, may prevent further dragging out of discussions by the UNM through procedural means when the package of bills will be debated by the Parliament with its second and threat readings.