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11 Jul, 2009 05:31

New draft law tightens grip on Georgian opposition

It is about to get harder and more dangerous to protest against the political regime in Georgia as the government has drafted a law introducing tougher penalties and new restrictions on rallies and demonstrations.

Offenders will now get thee months of immediate jail time for resisting police, who are now permitted to use plastic bullets on demonstrators.

These are just two proposals that the Georgian government, feted as pro-democracy by western media and politicians, plans for its people – some of whom have been protesting for months on the streets of the capital.

The police have used plastic bullets before – only this time, such use will be fully in line with the law.

Demonstrators who show any resistance to police face being detained for up to three months – instead of a month as before the legislation was introduced. Fines of up to $3,000 – a huge sum measured against local wages – could now be the penalty for “administrative” offences.

The draft law is being seen as the government’s response to the ongoing demonstrations.

“Of course, the adoption of this bill is connected with the processes which are going on in Georgia during this three month period,” says political analyst Nika Chitadze.

In addition, the construction of so-called “cage cells”, which were used by the opposition to symbolize what it says is Georgia’s slide into a police state, will be banned. So too will road blocks and gatherings deemed to “interfere” with public transport.

“It’s clear that this new draft law is meant specifically for the opposition. The legal changes will be used to continue political repressions – to conduct new arrests and suppress protests. In addition, the draft law justifies the use of force by police. They even want to give them the right to use plastic bullets!” says Eka Beselia, the leader of the Movement for United Georgia.

A Georgian parliament human rights committee has criticized the bill, but Pavle Kublashvili of the ruling party, who is a co-sponsor of the draft law claims there’s little to argue about:

“I’m sure if our opponents familiarize themselves with this bill they will understand that their statements are nothing more than political ambitions. I hope it will be discussed by non-governmental and international organizations. But I don’t think this will change the substance of the bill,” says Pavle Kublashvili from the United National Movement Party.

Georgian opposition groups want the European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission, to compare the changes being proposed by the Georgian government to previous human rights commitments.

The opposition says that nothing – including new laws – will intimidate them.

“We will continue anyway. We will not accept the decisions of this parliament, we do not recognize the legitimacy of the parliament and the regulations adopted by this parliament,” says Kakha Kukava, Conservative Party leader.

Thus the protests will continue – with the new draft laws adding fuel to the protest movement’s fire.