Debate Intensifies Over Defamation Law Amendments in Abkhazian Parliament

Parliamentarians engage in a pivotal debate over proposed defamation law amendments.

Parliamentarians engage in a pivotal debate over proposed defamation law amendments.

SUKHUM / AQW'A ― A parliamentary committee in Abkhazia is deeply engaged in discussions over a proposed amendment to the criminal code concerning defamation. This amendment, championed by President Aslan Bzhania and presented by his representative Batal Aiba, seeks to significantly increase penalties for spreading false information. While this presidential version is under consideration, another variant proposed by the committee is set for future debate.

The initiative has received backing from the General Prosecutor's Office, with representatives supporting the need for tougher sanctions, particularly targeting professional misconduct. Conversely, the Human Rights Commissioner's Office has raised alarms that the amendments might trigger a wave of criminal cases related to the dissemination of false information. The broad and vague terms of the proposal have also been criticised by legal experts, who argue it opens the door to wide-ranging interpretations—a point the General Prosecutor's Office lightly dismissed, remarking, "As many lawyers, as many opinions."

Adding a note of levity to the discussions, Deputy Kan Kvarchia humorously commented, "North Korea is taking a break," highlighting the perceived severity of the proposal. Meanwhile, Deputy Rezo Zantaria voiced skepticism about the law's real-world application, particularly questioning whether unmet promises could be considered lies under this new framework.

Tengiz Dzhopua Criticizes Push for Defamation Law

Public activist Tengiz Dzhopua has also entered the fray, sharply criticizing the head of state's fervent push for the new law.  Dzhopua suggests that if the same effort had been directed towards solving the country's cryptocurrency mining issues, the situation might be less dire. He argues that the law is being promoted to stifle free speech and obscure truths about government failures and corruption, which he says keep the populace in poverty. Dzhopua cynically remarks that without this law, the current leadership might struggle to secure a second term and continue its "comfortable, nomadic life" of business trips between Sukhum and Moscow.

+ Parliamentary Committee on Legal Policy Rejects Defamation Bill

Adgur Ardzinba Calls for Greater Accountability in Government Promises

In the context of the ongoing debate over the defamation law amendment, Adgur Ardzinba, head of the 'Abkhazian People's Movement', has expressed a strong viewpoint. Ardzinba stresses the need for significantly heightened accountability for the President and other officials regarding promises made during elections, which they generously distribute knowing well they do not intend to fulfil them. Instead of addressing these issues, President Aslan Bzhania is trying to curb citizens who justifiably criticise him for deceiving the public in 2020.

Nadezhda Borovikova Raises Concerns About Defamation Law Amendments

Journalist Nadezhda Borovikova has raised additional concerns about the ambiguity and potential implications of the proposed defamation law amendments. Borovikova questions why the draft law imposes harsher penalties for insulting government authorities compared to ordinary citizens. "Why do government representatives require heightened protection? Are they more susceptible to being offended?" she asks.

Another critical issue she points out is the definition of what constitutes an insult. People are diverse, and different statements can offend different individuals. For example, if someone claims that a government official is not qualified enough for their position or is performing poorly, the official might take offense. Borovikova challenges this by asking, "Does this mean I do not have the right to express such an opinion?"

The debate continues to unfold, with many deputies expressing concern over the potential for the terms to be loosely interpreted, the inclusion of "an undefined circle of persons," and the significant revision to remove "knowingness and intentionality" from the definition of defamation. 




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