TBILISI, DFWatch — The new government in Georgia wants to amend the law on the occupied territories in order to soften the punishment for people who violate it.

The Law on Occupied Territories was adopted in October 2008, a few months after the Russian-Georgian war. The law prohibits foreigners from visiting the territories occupied by Russia in Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia without permission from Tbilisi.

There are also restrictions on how to enter these territories; the law only allows entering the regions from the Georgian side.

The territory of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia shall be entered from the territory of the Zugdidi Municipality; while the territory of the Tskhinvali Region shall be entered from the territory of the Gori Municipality, the law reads.

In case of violation, a person is punished under the criminal law and might be fined or face up to four years in jail.

Paata Zakareishvili, Minister for Reintegration Issues, told today journalists that the government has prepared amendments to this law and a bill has been presented to parliament.

The amendment is that if a person violates the rule of entering the occupied territories, the first time he or she will be given administrative punishment, which will be a fine, but in case of repeat offense, the person will be punished under the criminal code of Georgia and may be go to jail.

He said he doesn’t think it is right that on the first violation a person is punished to go to jail, because many foreigners are in Georgian prisons because they have violated this law.

Even though the bill has not yet been reviewed in the parliament, the government’s opponents have started criticizing it, claiming that the new government fulfills the orders of Russian officials.

When the Georgian president last year canceled visa rules for Russian citizens, Russian officials responded that they will only do the same for Georgian citizens when Georgia amends its law about occupied territories, which threatens their citizens to go to Georgian jails.