TBILISI, DFWatch – Several authoritative non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Georgia consider the retrospective powers of a new law amendment unconstitutional and are asking the president to veto it.
The amendment imposes sanctions on political parties that have received money via private companies during the last few months, which was and still is legal until January 1.
The appeal is signed by Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International Georgia, Coalition Freedom of Choice and Open Society Georgia Foundation, which announced it at a press conference immediately after the bill was adopted December 28.
By approving the bill, parliament is imposing restrictions on party financing and establishing a number of sanctions for violating them.
According to the government, these restrictions and sanctions will apply to past actions, which runs counter to an established legal principle to not punish acts which were not a crime at the time.
Firstly, this will create problems for political parties which have partnered up with the billionaire turned politician Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has boosted four opposition parties with 1.1 million lari in November and December, funneling the money through his private companies.
These groups are: the Republican Party, the Free Democrats, the Conservative Party and the People’s Party. These will have to return the money to Ivanishvili, or else transfer it to the state.
The NGOs consider this regulation a violation of article 42 in the Georgian constitution, according to which “No one shall be held responsible on account of an action, which did not constitute a criminal offence at the time it was committed. A law that neither mitigates nor abrogates responsibility shall have no retroactive force.”
The NGOs’ statement says that the adopted law violates the constitution’s requirements by defining responsibility for actions, which weren’t considered violations when committing them, and further also grants reverse power to a norm which defines responsibility for past actions.
On this basis, the NGOs consider the new article 261 of the law on political unions of citizens illegal, by in its essence restricting the constitutional right to freedom of speech.
“It’s also unacceptable for us the changes made to the criminal law, which establishes unreasonable and disproportionate sanctions for voters who appeal to the people acting on a political goals with a request to transfer material goods or will receive the alike services from them,” the statement says.
The NGOs appeal to the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili not to permit a violation of this important principle enshrined in international law and guaranteed by the Georgian constitution, and to use his powers and send the bill back to parliament without signing it.
If the president doesn’t use his veto powers, the NGOs are going to appeal the bill to the constitutional court. But the constitutional court has 9-month review period, which will cause this process to drag out.
Retrospective criminalization is prohibited under the European Convention on Human Rights, which Georgia has ratified.