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The News in Brief

Monday, March 13
Abkhazia: Crossing Points Closure Not Subject to Revision

Authorities in Sokhumi responded to the international reactions on the closure of the two crossing points - Nabakevi-Khurcha and Meore Otobaia-Orsantia - between Abkhazia’s predominantly ethnic Georgian Gali district and its adjoining Zugdidi district of Samegrelo region.

A number of countries and international organizations, including the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, the United States, the United Kingdom, Lithuania and Japan, spoke against the decision stressing that it would restrict the freedom of movement for locals, including schoolchildren and patients requiring medical treatment.

The region’s authorities issued three statements in response.

In its latest response, Abkhaz Foreign Ministry noted that the U.S. State Department’s statement repeated “hackneyed incantations” on the humanitarian implications of the crossing points closure.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia is forced to reiterate that the decision taken by the Government of the Republic of Abkhazia fully complies with national legislation, meets the security interests of all of its citizens and is not subject to revision,” the statement said.

The Ministry also stated that all kind of calls to re-open the crossing points, “is senseless and can cause nothing but misunderstanding.”

“We call on all friends of Georgia, including international organizations, to stop speculating on the exclusively internal affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia,” it added.

Responding to “the unjustified appeals” of NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu, the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry stated on March 1 that the steps are “in line with international standards and are guided by the security needs of both Gali district residents and all citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia and is in no way aimed at creating any obstacles to the freedom of movement of Gali district residents.”

The statement explained that the region’s authorities closed the two crossing points “once all necessary conditions were fulfilled,” including repair of the road running to the main crossing point over the Enguri River, close to village Chuburkhinji, increasing the crossing point’s capacity and launch of the shuttle service to it.

“It is symptomatic that such a call, which sounds more like a demand, was voiced by a NATO representative. It seems that the North Atlantic Alliance decided to exert an open pressure on Abkhazia,” the statement said referring to NATO’s call to reconsider the decision.

Earlier, on February 28, the Sokhumi officials commented the statement of Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, saying that the EU’s concern over the freedom of movement “looks very cynical,” considering “the attitude of European institutions towards the problems of Abkhazia.”

The Ministry specified that the letter sent to Federica Mogherini in December 2016 “requesting clarifications” on the possibility of recognizing the Abkhaz passports as travel documents, “giving the right to freedom of movement,” was left unnoticed.

The decision to close the crossing points, made on December 28 by authorities in Sokhumi, has raised concerns locally as well.

Residents of Nabakevi and surrounding villages in Gali district, who used the two crossing points to travel to the neighboring Zugdidi district for schooling, medical services and commercial activities, organized a protest rally against the decision on January 25.

Campaigners in Georgia urge President to veto surveillance bill

An activist group in the former Soviet republic of Georgia urges the President to veto a secret surveillance bill and plans to sue the government in the European Court of Human Rights over the bill.

The bill on secret surveillance was adopted by Parliament in March at the third and final hearing and sent to the president for him to sign.

“The law on wiretapping was passed almost single-handedly, by Georgian Dream,” Eka Gigauri, chair of Transparency International Georgia, said on Friday.

“Neither the President nor the opposition parties nor non-governmental organizations support this model.”

Non-governmental organization (NGOs) in Georgia ran a campaign five years ago called This Affects You Too (“es shen gekheba”) to focus on the problem of secret surveillance during the National Movement’s rule. The campaign was revived a few years into the Georgian Dream government to call attention to a lack of progress in reining in the use of such surveillance.

TAYT has objected to several different versions of the bill because the proposals gave too much power to law enforcement agencies.

The contentious part of the bill is the system for allowing the intelligence service to keep the keys that technically give them direct access to carrying out wiretapping.

In a statement released on January 31, the NGOs emphasized that the new amendment “creates risks of unreasonable infringement of human rights.”

“We would welcome it if the president vetoed the bill. From our side, we will definitely appeal to [the European Court of Human Rights in] Strasbourg,” Gigauri said.

Human rights cases have often been brought before the ECHR in the past, and the Strasbourg based court recently temporarily suspended a ruling by Georgia’s Supreme Court in a case over the ownership over the largest TV station in the country, Rustavi 2.
(DF watch)