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Parliament passes two bills initiated by the government with the first reading

By Ana Robakidze
Monday, May 20
The Bill on the partial decriminalization and the easing of sanctions for illegal entry into breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia was passed with its first reading on May 17th. A package of bills which requires amendments to the law on occupation, as well as the Criminal and Administrative Codes of Georgia, has caused several weeks of debates between the Georgian Dream Coalition and the United National Movement opposition. UNM members claim that the amendments are nothing but changes in the attitude towards the conflict with the Russian Federation and threaten to weaken the legal status of Georgia in the conflict. As a result of long debates of MPs, the UNM refused to participate in the voting, but the bill still passed receiving 73 votes in favor.

UNM members said they would agree on the easing of sanctions for illegal entry into breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia if the GD would offer the draft eliminating the differentiated legal approach between entry rules into occupied territories and the violation of the border in the rest of the territory. The UNM opposes the idea of establishing a differential legal approach to the violations of Georgian borders in the areas of the occupied territories and in the areas where the border is controlled by Tbilisi.

Currently, entry into Abkhazia and South Ossetia for foreign citizens from the areas other than Georgian-controlled territories is subject to criminal punishment, results either into a fine or a jail term from two to four years, which is about to be changed by the new bill. According to the new proposal, imprisonment will only apply in cases of repeated violations of the rule and only if the crime is committed under aggravated circumstances such as in a group, with the use of force or the threat of force. Otherwise the first case of violation envisages only administrative punishment, in the form of a GEL 400 fine. Individuals will carry sanctions under the criminal code, in the case of repeated violation of the rule, but sanctions will again be financial penalty in an amount of not less than GEL 800.

However, it is still possible that the current draft may not appear to be the final version of the bill. UNM leader, MP Mikheil Machavariani, says there is a major question that needs to be answered, whether all parts of the Georgian border should have the same legal status or not? The bill may undergo some additional amendments before the second reading. According to Parliamentary Chairman David Usupashvili, the GD and UNM have agreed to set up a working group to draft another legislative amendment establishing a unified legal approach to border violations in every part of the country. The alternative bill will be presented to the parliament for further discussion.

Another package of amendments was passed with its first reading on May 17th parliament session. Amendments to the law on broadcasting, envisaging a new rule of composition of board of trustees of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), as well as more financial transparency of broadcasters, has been initiated by the GD Coalition. The draft reduces the number of board members from 15 to nine. Members will take their seats in the council for a six-year term. Also, the president will be excluded from the process of selecting board members. Accordign to the current legislation, the president selects three candidates for each of the 15 seats. Nominees are then presented to the parlaiment and finally one of those three candidates is approved for each seat.

The bill, if finally adopted by the parliament, will obligate broadcast license holders to submit to the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) a report detailing their financial resources. Reports should be submitted before May 1 of each year, together with audit reports.

The draft also changes the status of Adjara TV, transforming the TV into a public broadcaster. This means that the Batumi-based Adjara TV will be legally and financially affiliated with the Georgian Public Broadcaster.