The messenger logo

The News in Brief

Tuesday, February 9
Passportisation in Abkhazia, questions about Gali Georgians remain

New legislation doesn’t solve the problems of Abkhazia’s Georgians, who still find themselves in limbo of no right to vote and own property.

‘The issue of new passports for inhabitants of Abkhazia will begin in March, and the price of the new document will be 420 roubles,’ the Prime Minister of Abkhazia Shamil Adzynba announced.

The authorities in Sukhumi are planning to replace existing passports with new ones in order to increase the level of protection offered by the documents.

‘The internal passports of the citizens of Abkhazia which currently exist were the first documents we issued. We consider them our pride, but they weren’t printed in Russia and their quality turned out to be poor’, Mr Adzynba told Apsnypress back in February 2015, when the process was first announced.

‘The printing cost approximately 40 million roubles, the equipment costing another 24 million roubles, and the electronic system cost about 16 million roubles. The amount is certainly impressive, but it is necessary to ensure the security of our state and our citizens, the Prime Minister told Sputnik Apsny.

Passports will be issued in thirteen specially created service points throughout the republic. The authorities are planning to conclude the process of issuing new passports towards the end of the year.

The process coincides with the plan to issue residence permits to ethnic Georgians inhabiting the east of Abkhazia.

Georgians saw their Abkhazian citizenship cancelled on the eve of Abkhazia’s presidential elections in August 2014, which denied them the right to vote, own property, set up business, attend university, and to access healthcare.

Abkhazian authorities announced plans to issue residence permits instead, which sent further shockwaves in the community, as resident permits are considered documents which are granted to foreigners. The authorities argue, however, that many ethnic Georgians hold Georgian passports, which makes them foreign citizens. They justify their application of collective responsibility by security reasons, as they view Georgia being formally at war with Abkhazia.

Ekho Kavkaza (‘Caucasus Echo’) reported that an idea for postponing elections in Gal (Gali) due to lack of regulations regarding issuance of residence permits was discussed in the Parliament. Three members of parliament harshly criticised the idea.

Aslan Kobakhia called the idea ‘a hideous attitude and rudeness on behalf of the government’. Almas Jopua accused the government of ‘failing the passportisation process and failing to keep the deadline for elections to local self-governments’ and asked for a vote of no confidence to the prime minister. Akhra Bzhania said he was tempted to vote against the notion in order to ‘punish the people who failed to do their work’.

According to the newly-adopted law On the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens in the Republic of Abkhazia, persons holding the residence permit have no right to vote or to own property, which doesn’t bring much change in the situation of Abkhazia’s Georgian community.

Ekho Kavkaza quotes Mr Adzynba saying: ‘All residents should have not only a formal document with name, last name, and a photograph. Such a document should also give certain rights to a person. We think that a residence permit doesn’t allow a person to use their political rights, but it lets them enjoy all other rights’.

When asked whether these rights are specified in the legislation, Mr Adzynba said: ‘No, but there are other regulations, mechanisms, we understand the issue perfectly. This issue lies not only in the competence of the government; it should also be discussed with the Parliament. It will all be done soon, I assure you!’
(DF watch)

Amnesty: Bill Against ‘Insult of Religious Feelings’ Undermines Freedom of Expression

Amnesty International said a bill currently under discussion in the Georgian Parliament proposing to make “insulting religious feelings” an administrative offense, will undermine freedom of expression if adopted.

The bill, sponsored by Soso Jachvliani, an MP from the ruling GD coalition, was endorsed by Parliament’s human rights committee at a session on February 2. The bill, however, drew criticism from some ruling coalition members, specifically lawmakers from the Republican Party, as well as from opposition UNM party. Georgian human rights and watchdog groups have also called on the Parliament not to adopt proposed draft law.

“The proponents of the draft law have come up with this initiative with the expressly stated aim of protecting the Georgian Orthodox Church and its clergy from ‘insults’ by which, in the examples the proponents cited, they meant public criticism of the Church,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

“The proposed legislation would be incompatible with Georgia’s international obligations. It may effectively outlaw criticism of religious leaders and institutions, and suppress free speech on topical political and social issues, including the rights of women, of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, and of religious minorities.”

“Shielding the religious institutions from public criticism not only stifles freedom of expression, but in the context of Georgia may also reinforce discrimination and harassment of vulnerable communities, including condoning acts of violence perpetrated in the name of religion. Amnesty International has documented several such violent incidents, in which the perpetrators purported to be acting in the name of ‘protecting’ or ‘shielding from insults’ their faith, the Georgian Orthodox Christianity professed by a majority of Georgians. In particular, individuals belonging to the LGBT community and women’s rights campaigners have been, on regular occasions, subjected to intimidation ranging from death threats to violent attacks by the followers of the Georgian Orthodox Church after they made critical statements about the Church or its leadership,” the rights group said.

It called on the Georgian authorities to “reject the proposed legislation” and to take “effective steps to protect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for all, including individuals holding and expressing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, and [to] end discrimination against persons belonging to the LGBTI community in particular.”

In a written statement on February 4, the Georgian Orthodox Church denied that the Patriarchate is behind the bill or that the bill aims at limiting criticism of the Church.

“Although there are frequent cases of insults and use of hate speech against the [Orthodox] Church and its leader, the adoption of such a bill has not been our initiative – neither now nor previously,” it said.

The Georgian Orthodox Church called on the authorities in January, 2015 to provide for “limits to freedom of expression” in order to protect rights of believers against “insult of religious feelings.”

In late 2013, the Interior Ministry-proposed draft law was offering adding “insult of religious feelings” clause to the code of administrative offenses, but at the time the proposal was dropped.