On 22 August 2014, in an interview with the Russian edition of the BBC, State Minister of Georgia for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Paata Zakareishvili, addressed the issue of punishment for entering Georgia’s occupied territories. According to Mr Zakareishvili, an administrative penalty should be set instead of criminal responsibility imposed upon certain persons. During the interview, he also noted: “We committed to the European Union in the process of the realisation of the Association Agreement. The Agreement’s Agenda clearly notes that Georgia has to amend the Law on Occupied Territories exactly in this direction (changing criminal responsibility to administrative responsibility).”

FactCheck

took interest in Mr Zakareishvili’s statement and verified its accuracy.

The Association Agenda between the European Union and Georgia

is an appendix of the Association Agreement and consists of the recommendations that Georgia has to fulfil in the next three years in order to fully enact the Association Agreement.

The Agenda indeed contains a part that concerns the Law of Georgia on Occupied Territories. More precisely, one of the recommendations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict is formulated in this way: “Take appropriate steps to encourage trade, travel and investment across the administrative boundary line, including a review of legislation such as the Law on Occupied Territories.”

During the interview, Mr Zakareishvili commented further: “As the citizens who cross this section of the border are not aware that they end up on occupied territory, the law should be more liberal and loyal to them.” He uses exactly these arguments to justify the planned amendments that should set an administrative and not a criminal penalty (meaning that the law will be decriminalised) for illegally crossing the border between Georgia and Russia. Additionally, the Minister stated: “… It is very important for the violation of the Russian-Georgian border on the segment of Krasnodar Krai, Sochi and Adler not to be punished by the criminal code.”

As we can see, the Minister is speaking about the Russian-Georgian border whilst the Association Agreement’s Agenda only concerns the administrative borders. Moreover, the Agenda is limited to the aforementioned general phrase and does not indicate how the Law on Occupied Territories should be revised so that it encourages trade, travel and investment across the administrative boundary line.

An amendment to the Law on Occupied Territories was planned in 2013. According to opponents, however, the amended Law would establish different legal regimes on the state borders of Georgia. More precisely, crossing the state border into the occupied territories would become an administrative offense whilst illegally crossing the border in the remaining part of the country would still be a crime. In turn, the government was denying the establishment of a new legal regime and was referring to the fact that according to the acting Criminal Code of Georgia, illegally crossing the border in the occupied and non-occupied territories was regulated by different articles.

FactCheck

concludes that the proposed amendments set two different regimes on the state borders of Georgia as they assign different qualifications to the same crime (depending upon the crime being committed in the occupied or non-occupied territories). The Parliament postponed the hearing of this bill for an undefined period although Paata Zakareishvili expressed his hope in the interview that these amendments would still be approved.

FactCheck analysed the statement made by the First Deputy State Minister of Georgia for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, which concerned the proposed amendments to the Law on Occupied Territories as well. Ms Tsikhelashvili explained the proposed amendments by the recommendations of the European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan although this document

concerns the revision of the Law on Occupied Territories with the aim of encouraging trade, travel and investment across the administrative boundary line. It gives no specific recommendations about replacing the Criminal Code’s punishment by an administrative penalty for illegally crossing the state border.

It should be taken into account that the bill on the proposed amendments to the Law on Occupied Territories was submitted to the Parliament in February 2013. The Association Agreement’s Agenda, however, was only approved in June 2014. The explanatory note of the aforementioned bill has no mention of EU recommendations or encouraging trade, travel and investment across the administrative boundary line. The Agenda, therefore, could not have been the reason for the initiation of the aforementioned amendments.

Conclusion FactCheck

believes that the statement made by the State Minister of Georgia for Reconciliation and Civic Equality does not fully reflect the idea of the recommendation envisaged in the EU-Georgia Association Agreement’s Agenda and is a narrow interpretation of the Agenda. The Agenda concerns the revision of the Law on Occupied Territories with the aim of encouraging trade, travel and investment across the administrative boundary line which is by no means a recommendation from the EU to qualify the illegal border crossing as an administrative penalty. Moreover, the bill on the amendments was submitted to the Parliament long before approving the Agenda.

FactCheck concludes that Mr Zakareishvili’s statement: “We committed to the European Union in the process of the realisation of the Association Agreement. The Agreement’s Agenda clearly notes that Georgia has to amend the Law on Occupied Territories exactly in this direction (changing criminal responsibility to administrative responsibility),” is FALSE.

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