The Abkhazian Parliament has rejected amendments to the State Security Bodies law which critics say would allow authorities to stifle criticism or dissent in Abkhazia.
The parliament put the draft law to the vote on 23 February.
Justice Minister Anri Bartsitz, who presented the law to parliament, said that it aimed to ‘establish preventive measures used by state security agencies to prevent crime’.
If passed, the law would have allowed the State Security Service to warn individuals or investigate them for any actions deemed ‘inadmissible’ or which could constitute the ‘pre-conditions for a crime’.
Critics of the draft law warned that it was too ambiguous and could have been used to stifle dissent or criticism of the government, with some referring to it as the ‘North Korean law’.
‘The State Security Service may consider that a speech or article by an opposition politician or an ordinary citizen, including comments in social networks, creates conditions for committing a crime under Article 278 of the Criminal Code: public calls for the implementation of extremist activities’, said blogger David Gobechia.
In parliament, several MPs spoke out against the law, with some saying it would enable authoritarianism in Abkhazia.
‘Won’t it turn out that we are essentially engaged in the legalisation of the fight against people who have a dissenting opinion — a different opinion?’ asked Inar Gitsba in session.
‘I am afraid that such an approach will lead to the restriction of constitutional freedoms, in particular freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and belief.’
Abkhazia’s Human Rights Defender Asida Shakryl praised parliamentarians for rejecting the amendments and criticised the authorities’ ‘stubborn attempts […] to legislate norms that destroy the principles and values of the Abkhaz society and restrict rights and freedoms’.
‘The MPs, having refused the [amendments], prevented Abkhaz society from plunging into an atmosphere of lies, denunciation, fear, and hopelessness, which it tragically experienced under Stalin and Beria’, she said.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.