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An initiative about the amendments to the Law on Occupied Territories of Georgia was submitted to the Parliament of Georgia by the Georgian Government on 7 February 2013. According to the government-proposed amendments, instead of criminal punishment, in the case of violation of the rule for entering the occupied territories for the first time, a person will be subject to administrative penalty involving a GEL 400 fine. But in case of repeated violation by the same person, criminal prosecution should apply.

The existing legislation on the occupied territories was adopted by the Parliament of Georgia on 28 October 2008. According to it, entry into the occupied territories for foreign citizens or persons without citizenship from prohibited territories is a subject of criminal liability. Violation of this rule for the first time will result in fine or imprisonment.

Discussions and debates about the draft law have commenced since 2 May 2013 in the Parliament of Georgia. The main speaker on this issue, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, First Deputy State Minister for Reintegration, explains that for the reasons of humanity towards foreign citizens (those who do not possess information that crossing the Georgian border from specific territories is prohibited and commits a crime without any purpose) and enhancement of confidence among Georgians, Abkhazians and Ossetians, the existing law requires liberalisation and those amendments which the proposed bill contains directly serves this purpose. Therefore, she explains, rhetoric used by the Parliamentary Minority, as if this initiative were related to taking Russian interests into consideration, is irrelevant.

According to Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, the European Union endorses the government-proposed amendments. During her speech at the Parliamentary session held on 15 May she stated: "You are probably aware of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and its Action Plan. It points out that amendments to the Law are recommended." Proposed amendments to the bill, she continued, fit exactly in what the ENP's Action Plan has meant. Ketevan Tsikhelashvili also underlined the fact that in private conversations, representatives from the European Union obviously approve this step taken by the new Georgian government.

This issue has become one of the subjects of criticism of the proposed bill for the Parliamentary Minority. According to Minority Members, the necessity to make amendments to the Law on Occupied Territories has not been mentioned in any of the documents of the international organisations related to this particular issue.

FactCheck

wondered whether or not the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Action Plan actually endorse the proposed amendments to the Law on Occupied Territories and give relevant recommendations.

In the report, Implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy in Georgia, Progress in 2012 and Recommendations for Action, the following can be found: “Georgia continued to implement its strategy for engagement without, however, reviewing restrictive aspects of the law on occupied territories. Following the change of the government, there are some encouraging signs of possibly more effective engagement with breakaway territories and a more relaxed implementation of the Law on Occupied Territories. The same document outlines that the European Union is recommending the new Georgian government maintain and improve constructive participation in the Geneva International Discussions. It also recommends enhancing Georgia’s engagement policy towards the breakaway regions and improving reconciliation/conflict resolution by finding ways to cooperate with the de facto

authorities [this term is used in the original version of the document], providing financial resources for engagement, taking pragmatic and constructive steps to encourage trade, travel and investment across the administrative boundary line and reviewing the Law on Occupied Territories.

However, no specific recommendations have been mentioned regarding the liberalisation of the state border. At the same time, the government-proposed bill on the occupied territories does not provide any initiatives for improved economic cooperation.

Conclusion

The European Union actually recommends the Georgian Government consider a liberalisation of approaches towards the occupied territories. It also approves of a willingness and readiness for a flexible and relaxed implementation of the Law.

However, the initiative, which is included in the government proposal, is not discussed in the document of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Action Plan and, accordingly, this specific amendment in the draft bill is neither approved nor rejected by the European Union.

Therefore, FactCheck rates the statement by Ketevan Tsikhelashvili: “You are probably aware of the European Neighbourhood Policy and its Action Plan. It points out that amendments to the Law are recommended," HALF TRUE.