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Monday, December 18
New Constitution to Restrict Access to Highly Sensitive Public Information

TBILISI) -- The Georgian Parliament on December 15 passed in its second reading amendments to the newly-adopted constitution restricting access to public information considered highly sensitive or important for national security

Lawmakers from the ruling Georgian Dreamparty broadened the scope of existing restrictions after holding consultations with the Justice Ministry.

The new changes have been heavily criticized by Georgia’s opposition parties and activists who claim the move the move is another attempt by the Georgian Dream to close off the country and quash any attempt to make certain sectors of society transparent and open to criticism.

The move is seen as deeply divisive, with members ofthe Georgian Dream coming out against the changes.Deputy parliament speaker Tamar Chugoshvili were an attack on the public’s freedom of information and a step back in the opening of Georgian society.

Civil activists released a statement on December 15, slamming the authors of the amendments, calling the proposals “Hasty attempts to undermine constitutional norms.”

The new constitution will enter into force following the next presidential election in 2018.

Abkhazia plans to charge customs tax at checkpoint with Georgia proper

GALI, DWatch – Abkhazia plans to begin charging import tax at a checkpoint with Georgia proper and impose stricter regulations on what goods are allowed to bring across.

The plans were aired by the head of Abkhazia’s de facto customs service, Beslan Tsvinaria, in the wake of a similar decision by the authorities of Georgia’s other breakaway republic, South Ossetia.

“If we are a state, there should be a working customs office at the Enguri border,” Tsvinaria said.

He also demanded to expand the list of goods that it should be prohibited to bring from Zugdidi and charge tax on remaining produce. Currently it is forbidden to bring citrus, alcohol and tobacco.

“Nobody knows how much goods cross the border, it is not registered. The border [facilities] should be equipped accordingly,” Tsvinaria said.

He said he has asked the de facto president Raul Khajimba administration to open a customs control and hopes to see the initiative come to fruition next year.

A month and a half ago, the other breakaway region, South Ossetia, announced its plans to impose customs tax at a checkpoint near Akhalgori.

Most of the agricultural products available in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are brought in from Georgia proper. Tens of thousands of residents in Abkhazia’s southern Gali district are dependant on products from Zugdidi, across the Enguri river. Gali residents, most of whom are ethnic Georgians, suspect that the restrictions will cost them dearly.

Currently, there is no “official” tax charged at the Enguri checkpoint, but it is necessary to pay bribes to Abkhaz customs officers. People fear that after the introduction of official customs tax, they will pay double – both bribes and “official” tax.

It is not a new idea by Abkhazian de facto authorities to establish its own customs regime. In 2011, then de facto president Alexander Ankvab called for charging customs tax on goods imported from Georgia.