The Iranian ambassador to Georgia has said there is a ‘need to revisit’ a visa free agreement between the two countries after reports of dozens of Iranian citizens being turned away at Georgia’s borders.
At a press conference on Monday, Ambassador Seyed Javad Ghavam-Shahidi called Iranian-Georgian relations ‘exemplary’ but said they had experienced some troubles lately.
He told journalists that recent practices by the Georgian authorities seemed to differ from those agreed in the 2010 Iranian-Georgian visa-free agreement.
According to the ambassador, they had no information to suggest Georgia was considering re-introducing visas for Iranians, and they had no intention to do so either, but, he added that ‘apparently, there is a need to revisit the 2010 Agreement’.
‘If there are some flaws in the existing regulations, they should be worked out together by Iran and Georgia, so that Iranians don’t experience any problems’, the ambassador said.
The ambassador did not name the exact number of Iranians that had been turned away from Georgia but said that ‘lately, there were instances when 10, 20, or 40 Iranians were sent back to Iran by the border control authorities’.
On 3 December, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said Georgia had denied entrance to up to 200 Iranian citizens in recent days despite their documents being in order.
‘The reason for this is not clear to us. We object to this and will continue discussions with the Georgian side to clarify the issue’ the spokesman said.
According to statistics from Georgia’s Interior Ministry, 434 Iranians were denied entrance to Georgia in November, the highest of any nationality. This was followed by Indians (370) and Turkish citizens (46).
The ambassador said there were also instances when Iranians were questioned as to why they wanted to do business in Georgia at all.
He said that the practice had changed and now Iranian citizens were ‘thoroughly’ questioned as to whether they had a return ticket, where they were staying, and that airlines were being told by officials to have free spaces on their flights as it was expected that some Iranians would be sent back.
Iran’s embassy previously addressed the Georgian authorities after an Iranian woman was reportedly asked to remove her veil for ‘security reasons’. On 16 August, the embassy complained to Georgia’s Foreign Ministry about the woman’s reported ‘mistreatment’.
After promising to look into the allegations, on 18 August, the Georgian Foreign Ministry announced they had not found any evidence of mistreatment.
‘With our preliminary findings, our law enforcement officials have not found any evidence of illegal behaviour or disrespecting of religious feelings. Iran has already been notified of this’, the ministry said.
On 10 December, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported that the country’s Foreign Ministry had advised Iranian citizens ‘to avoid unnecessary trips’ to Georgia, citing cases of head scarfs of Iranian citizens being disrespected during security checks.
‘We are pursuing with special sensitivity some of the problems that arose for some Iranians in the air and land borders of Georgia in Tehran and Tbilisi’, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi was quoted as saying.
He said the Georgian ambassador had been summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry over the issue.
Ambassador Ghavam-Shahidi told OC Media during Monday’s press conference that there some ‘awkward situations’ regarding Iranian women being asked to unveil their faces had taken place, but ‘less recently so’.
‘It would be best if Georgia shared some practices used in countries that are frequently visited by Iranian tourists’, the ambassador suggested.
On 14 December a conference by the Iranian Investors Union in Georgia was postponed after ‘several Iranian investors who were supposed to attend the conference were denied entrance to Georgia’.
According to Iran Daily, the head of the Iranian Investors Union in Georgia, Mohammad Khaleq, said they decided to postpone the conference as ‘the Iranian Foreign Ministry has urged Iranian citizens to avoid traveling to Georgia until misunderstandings between the two countries are resolved’.
He added that the aim of the Iranian Investors Union was to help Iranian and Georgian business people engage with each other and assist Iranian businessmen in Georgia, attract investment to the country and defend the rights of investors and businessmen.
Foreigners blocked from entering public service hall
On 11 December a number of Georgian conservative groups gathered outside the Tbilisi Public Service Hall in an attempt to prevent foreigners from registering ownership of agricultural land in the country.
The groups displayed a number of signs specifically targeting Muslim foreigners, including Iranians.
The groups gathered for a second day on Tuesday, however, police secured a corridor for those attempting to enter the building.
On Monday, they stopped some they believed were foreign citizens from entering the premises.
In one instance caught on camera by On.ge on Monday, protesters prevented a Spanish man from entering the building until he proved to them he was Spanish. Once they learnt he was married to an Iranian woman, the crowd again prevented him from entering.
The protest followed a ruling by the Constitutional Court on 7 December temporarily lifting a ban on foreign citizens buying agricultural land in Georgia.
Constitutional changes that will reinstate the ban will enter into force after the inauguration of Salome Zurabishvili as Georgian president, scheduled for Sunday 16 December.
Protesters said foreigners were using the 10-day window to register ownership of agricultural lands in Georgia.