SUKHUM / AQW'A — The ongoing debate in Abkhazia intensifies as President Aslan Bzhania faces accusations of violating the constitution through his proposal of the "On NGOs and Individuals Acting as Foreign Agents" draft law to the Parliament of Abkhazia.
This proposed legislation, titled "On NGOs and Individuals Acting as Foreign Agents," has raised concerns among legal experts and public figures, according to a statement published by the "OKNO" Telegram channel. This channel is managed by members of the Board of Directors of the "Centre for Humanitarian Programs," Liana Kvarchelia, and lawyer Said Gezerdaa, among others.
Constitutional Freedoms at Stake
Critics argue that the draft law infringes upon fundamental constitutional rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech, thought, belief, association, and the right to peaceful assembly. They assert that President Bzhania's actions contravene the principle of a legal state as outlined in Article 1 of the Constitution, which prohibits arbitrary decisions by officials from becoming legislative norms. This approach, they claim, is indicative of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, where the law is imposed on society without democratic constraints.
Furthermore, the statement emphasises that the proposed content of the draft law is incompatible with the Constitution of Abkhazia. According to Article 9, no law that abrogates or diminishes human rights and freedoms can be enacted or published within the republic.
A Step Backwards for Abkhazia?
The public figures behind the statement regard President Bzhania's actions as a violation of the duties imposed on him by the Constitution and his oath of office. They express concern that Bzhania is the first president in recent Abkhaz history to attempt to revive repressive mechanisms and question the constitutional order of the Republic of Abkhazia, undermining the principles of a legal and democratic state.
Article 64 of the Abkhaz Constitution is cited, noting that the president can be removed from office if found to have violated his oath, the Constitution, and laws.
The Contours of the "Foreign Agents" Law
The controversial draft law defines both NGOs and individuals as potential foreign agents if they receive funding or property from foreign sources. Exemptions are made for funds received from states that recognise Abkhazia's independence—Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru, and Syria—where citizens and legal entities registered in these countries are not considered foreign sources.
The draft law requires individuals intending to act as foreign agents to register with a competent authority before acquiring such status. It mandates that materials produced or distributed by "foreign agents" must clearly indicate their association with such activities.
+ The Abkhazian opposition has labelled the president as "essentially a foreign agent."
+ Leuan Mikaa Condemns Bzhania's NKVD-Style Tactics Against Opponents
+ Citizens of Abkhazia Against the "Law on NGOs-Foreign Agents"
Violations of the proposed law on non-commercial organisations and individuals acting as foreign agents could lead to administrative, criminal, and other forms of liability, as outlined in the document.
This move by President Bzhania has been interpreted by some as an attempt to solidify his position and marginalise opposition by labelling them as anti-Russian, amidst his declining popularity in society. The proposed law has thus become a focal point for debates on freedom, democracy, and the future direction of Abkhazia's political landscape.
For readers interested in a more detailed exploration of the criticisms and concerns surrounding this draft law, a full statement is available on the "OKNO" Telegram channel. This in-depth analysis sheds light on the constitutional and societal implications of the "On NGOs and Individuals Acting as Foreign Agents" proposal, enriching the context of the ongoing debate in Abkhazia. The statement from "OKNO" offers a thorough critique, emphasising the serious potential impacts on Abkhazia's constitutional integrity and democratic principles.
The Statement from "OKNO"
President Aslan Bzhania has committed grave violations of the Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia by submitting to the Parliament of the Republic of Abkhazia the draft law "On NGOs and Individuals Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents".
1. The draft law is criticised for potentially undermining foundational constitutional rights, freedoms, and principles that are crucial to our nation, including:
- The freedom of speech;
- The freedom of thought;
- The freedom of beliefs;
- The right to association;
- The right to conduct peaceful rallies, meetings, marches, and demonstrations;
- The principle of equality before the law and non-discrimination.
2. The Constitution unequivocally forbids any reduction or revocation of rights in any manner, particularly through legislative means (Article 35, Part 1). Employing the law to curtail the rights of citizens, President Bzhania contravenes the Constitution on two significant counts:
He breaches the legal state principle (Article 1 of the Constitution), which prevents arbitrary decisions by officials from becoming legislative standards. The interpretation of law as a discretionary "command" devoid of democratic limitations is indicative of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Through his actions, President Bzhania fosters a regime where official caprice overrides legal authority.
The nature of this draft law is such that it should not have been presented to the Parliament of the Republic of Abkhazia, as it conflicts with the Constitution. No law that undermines or diminishes human rights and freedoms is permissible within the Republic (Article 9).
3. President Bzhania's conduct should be viewed as a dereliction of the responsibilities assigned to him by the Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia and his oath of office:
[in Abkhaz] “Ҭоуба зуеит, сымч-сылша, схы-сыхшыҩ, сыҧсҭазаара зегьы Сыҧсадгьыл, сыуаажәлар рымаҵ аура ишазыскуа, сыжәлар ирымҭаны снапаҿы иҟало амчра ҳҳәынҭқарра Аконституциа, иахьатәи уи амш, уаҵәтәи уи аҧеиҧш рыхьчараз схы ишасырхәо. Жәлар рылахь соуааит иҧшьоу абри ахықәкы сацәхьаҵны саныҟала!”.
Firstly, the Constitution explicitly prohibits the enactment of laws that negate or diminish rights and freedoms (Article 35, Part 1).
Secondly, by failing to safeguard human rights and freedoms, the Constitution, and the laws of the Republic of Abkhazia (Article 53, Item 1), the President has neglected his primary constitutional duty. The enactment of this law would result in the infringement of citizens' personal and political rights.
Thirdly, the presidential oath expressly states his duty to act in the citizens' interest, regardless of their demographic representation, committing to "respect, protect, and defend, with all my strength, my life, and my work, the Homeland, the welfare of my people, to uphold the authority of the Constitution of our state, today and in the future, and to ensure the protection of its principles."
Fourthly, the Constitution directly prevents the President from using his powers to alter the constitutional order. President Bzhania's attempts to reintroduce repressive measures and question the constitutional framework of the Republic of Abkhazia represent a breach of the principle of a legal and democratic state (Article 1, Part 1).
These actions, as outlined in Article 64 of the Constitution, could constitute grounds for the President's removal from office.
For a comprehensive review, the draft law is available for examination [here].