Vitaly Sharia | Ekho Kavkaza — Opposition members of civil society in Abkhazia have criticised the draft law on "foreign agents", deeming it unconstitutional and divisive. President Aslan Bzhania introduced the bill to Parliament, which identifies both non-commercial organisations and individuals receiving funds or other assets from foreign sources as potential foreign agents.
The president recently introduced a bill titled "On Non-Commercial Organisations and Individuals Acting as Foreign Agents" for Parliament's consideration. According to a summary by Apsnypress, the draft law proposes that non-commercial organisations of any legal form can be designated as foreign agents if they receive money or other assets from foreign sources and participate in political activities in Abkhazia, including on behalf of foreign sources. Foreign citizens and stateless persons can also be labelled as foreign agents if they engage in political activities in Abkhazia, funded by foreign sources. The definition of foreign sources includes foreign states, governmental bodies, international organisations, and individuals funded by these entities. The Ministry of Justice of Abkhazia will maintain a registry of organisations and individuals recognized as foreign agents, with violations of the law resulting in administrative, criminal, and other forms of liability.
It is worth noting that resistance to the so-called foreign agents law has been growing within Abkhazian society for some time. Over two years ago, on January 27, 2022, Apsadgyl-info published a public appeal signed by hundreds, addressed to the president, prime minister, and speaker of the Parliament, expressing concern that the discussion on adopting the "NGO-foreign agents law" had reached a new level. The appeal highlighted that restricting NGO activities through this law would negatively impact Abkhazia's international image, potentially reinforcing the false Georgian narrative of "occupation". NGOs represent one of the few communication channels with the international community that should not be blocked, especially as Abkhazia seeks wider international recognition. The appeal stressed that the "foreign agent" label is a false, propagandist cliché, and the law would serve as a repressive tool, reviving totalitarian practices of collective guilt and discrimination. It was argued that adopting such a law, even in a milder form, would inevitably lead to the dissolution of the non-governmental sector, as civil organisation employees, being patriots, would not tolerate the defamatory label of "foreign agent". The general consensus was that the proposed law should not be on the agenda of Abkhazia's state authorities.
However, the draft has been published, and many observers and members of civil society have remarked that it is harsher than expected, sparking a range of responses within the Abkhazian online community.
Asida Lomia, head of the Abkhazia Children's Fund, expressed astonishment:
"What shocks me is this—our people are considered far-sighted, a trait often mentioned in the works of our writers. Where does this foresight lie? In preserving honour and dignity. It's about leaving a legacy that doesn't shame our children or grandchildren... Ensuring we don't disgrace our ancestors or fail the future generations who, though unborn, we owe a legacy of pride, not shame. Today, there's a threat that the actions of the current Abkhazian authorities will tarnish the nation's honour, constitution, and the freedom for which too much blood and mothers' tears have been shed. Is this what we desire?"
Said Gezerdaa, a lawyer at the Centre for Humanitarian Programmes, highlighted constitutional violations:
"The constitution categorically prohibits the abolition or diminution (i.e., unacceptable restriction) of rights in any form, especially through legislation (Article 35, Section 1). By using the law as a means to diminish citizens' rights, the president breaches the constitution in two ways. First, he violates the principle of a legal state (Article 1 of the Constitution), which does not allow arbitrary decisions by officials to become law. Viewing law as an arbitrary 'command' imposed on society without democratic limitations is characteristic of authoritarian and totalitarian states (of communist and fascist nature). President Bzhania's decisions promote the supremacy of bureaucratic caprice over law. Secondly, a bill of this nature should not be introduced in the Parliament of the Republic of Abkhazia, as it violates the Constitution – no law that cancels or diminishes human rights and freedoms should be adopted or issued in the Republic of Abkhazia (Article 9)."
"Violating constitutional rights and freedoms is one issue. Our legislation already contains sufficient legal norms allowing law enforcement to hold individuals accountable if their activities constitute a crime. However, this law... It merely restricts the rights of our citizens engaged in certain activities. On the other hand, I view it as a tool for political struggle. Imported and attempted to be applied in Abkhazia, we've seen active examples of its use. It's a tool against dissent, which is unacceptable in Abkhazia. To my knowledge, such a law exists only in Russia within the post-Soviet space, and this draft law seems nearly identical, hardly differing at all."
Today, "Ekho Kavkaza [Echo of the Caucasus]" had a conversation with Tengiz Dzhopua, a figure active in socio-political spheres. He shared his insights:
"The issue of violating citizens' constitutional rights and freedoms is significant. Our legal framework already provides ample norms that enable law enforcement agencies to hold individuals accountable for any misconduct in their activities. However, the manner in which this law is structured... it effectively restricts the rights of our citizens who engage in specific types of activities. Furthermore, I view this as a political tool. It has been adapted and applied to the context of Abkhazia, with attempts to use it within our region. There are already prominent examples where it has been actively implemented. This represents a tool against dissent, which should not be accepted in Abkhazia. To the best of my understanding, such a law is only in effect in Russia within the post-Soviet space. This proposed legislation, in my view, is strikingly similar to it, with hardly any distinction."
Akhra Aristava, a researcher at the Institute of Economics and Law of the Abkhazian Academy of Sciences, shared with "Ekho Kavkaza":
"Abkhazia's history has never known serfdom... In Abkhazia, people were never branded or divided based on criteria alien to our nation. Even inhabitants from the African continent living here enjoyed all rights, as evidenced by numerous testimonies. And now, the draft law on foreign agents submitted by the executive branch to the parliament is utterly unacceptable and does not align with our traditional culture and the democratic principles of our people. How can we allow one Abkhaz to label another Abkhaz...".
This sentiment reflects a deep concern about the potential impact of the proposed legislation on the fabric of Abkhazian society, emphasising the perceived contradiction between the draft law and the historically inclusive and egalitarian values of the Abkhazian community.
This article was published by Ekho Kavkaza and is translated from Russian.