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 საერთო ცხელი ხაზი +995 577 07 05 63

OTHER / Statement

The government continues to carry out the interests of the Kremlin by not allowing anti-Putin activists, journalists, and opposition members into Georgia

The Georgian government continues to align with the Kremlin's interests by refusing entry to activists, journalists, and opposition members, particularly those facing increasing restrictions, persecution, and harassment in Russia. Since the war in Ukraine, media sources have identified at least 25 cases where the Georgian government has denied entry to anti-regime Russian and Belarusian activists. This number is likely higher, as many activists do not publicize their experiences for personal safety reasons. Some of these activists are receiving legal assistance from the Social Justice Center.

The Social Justice Center is defending the legal interests of Russian activist Maxim Ivantsov. On February 25, 2024, Russian citizen and civil activist Maxim Ivantsov was returning to Georgia from Vilnius, but the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs denied him entry without explanation. Maxim Ivantsov has been living in Georgia since 2020 and is the coordinator of the NGO "Frame," which has focused on civil education in Russia for years. In 2012, when the Kremlin declared Ivantsov a "foreign agent," the organization temporarily closed but later reopened. However, after the war in Ukraine, the situation became more complicated, forcing "Frame" to relocate to Georgia. Since moving to Tbilisi in 2020, Ivantsov and his team rented a house on Bethlehem Street and continued their work there. They named the space "House on Bethlehem," where a cafe-bar was opened next to the meeting room and outer perimeter. The organization regularly hosted discussions, debates, and film screenings. Until February 25, 2024, Ivantsov had been able to leave and re-enter Georgia without issue, never encountering problems at the border.

Shortly before the incident involving Maxim Ivantsov, on January 17, Russian opposition leader Boris Nadezhdin announced that his campaign had begun collecting signatures in Tbilisi for his candidacy in the Russian presidential elections. Nadezhdin's headquarters was provided space by the NGO "Frame." Maxim Ivantsov believes that his denial of entry to Georgia is related to his anti-Putin stance and the provision of space for collecting signatures for Boris Nadezhdin.

Maxim Ivantsov had already passed passport control and was waiting for his luggage when he was sent back and denied entry to Georgia. He also experienced improper treatment from Ministry of Internal Affairs employees at the airport. After being handed a document, Ivantsov was roughly taken to the airplane by several airport staff and police officers who pushed him. During this time, he requested to speak to a lawyer and to be informed about the basis for his denial of entry. After being placed on the plane, he requested political asylum. However, despite this, the treatment by the police was inappropriate and humiliating; they yelled at him and mocked him. Since Ivantsov refused to fly to another country, he was placed in a room where he was held for 12 hours and was searched beforehand. To avoid further improper treatment, he was forced to fly to another country the next day. An investigation into the incident began, but almost two months later, no information about the results has been received.

With the help of the Social Justice Center, Maxim Ivantsov appealed the February 25 decision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to a higher administrative body, but the complaint was not upheld.

The decision to deny Maxim Ivantsov entry to Georgia cited Article 11, Section 1, Subsection "i" of the Georgian Law on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons as the basis, which states that a foreigner can be denied entry "in other cases provided by law." In our reality, this norm is systematically used by the Ministry of Internal Affairs as an independent basis without referring to other legislative acts, thus allowing the ministry to give this norm a completely arbitrary interpretation. This approach grants the Ministry of Internal Affairs wide discretion and uncontrolled power to make arbitrary decisions in the border crossing process. In some cases, there is suspicion that this arbitrary practice is being used with discriminatory motives.[1]  

This is particularly evident in the analysis of the cases of denial of entry to Russian and Belarusian opposition activists. Among them, there is a reasonable suspicion that Maxim Ivantsov was denied entry to Georgia solely because he was involved in anti-Kremlin public activities.

The analysis of these cases shows that the Georgian government is intentionally and without justification refusing entry to Russian and Belarusian activists, using vague and non-transparent practices for this purpose. According to current regulations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs states that foreigners are checked against lists provided by law enforcement agencies when entering Georgia, which is usually based on information classified as a state secret. Even within court proceedings, access to state secrets is not granted to the victims of rights violations and their lawyers. Therefore, verifying the legality and justification of the Ministry of Internal Affairs' decisions regarding border crossings depends solely on the good faith of the judge.

On February 24, 2022, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the fear of sanctions imposed on Russia, the tightening of the repressive "foreign agents" law against civil and media organizations, and the start of military mobilization pushed some residents of Russia to leave the country, leading to waves of migration. Russian activists, journalists, and opposition members critical of the Russian government faced particular problems at the Georgian border. Based on publicly available media information, we have identified that 25 Russian and Belarusian activists who openly expressed their protest against the ongoing war in Ukraine and Russian policies were denied entry to Georgia between 2022 and 2024 (see the appendix for a case review).

The deliberate policy of the Georgian government to deny entry to activists critical of Russian policies was positively assessed by Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov on May 15. Solovyov stated that he spoke with representatives of the Georgian Parliament about the issue of Russians living in the country. According to him, they plan to expel Russians temporarily residing in Georgia who participate in protests against Russian laws. It is unknown who the representatives of the Georgian Parliament meeting with Russian propagandists are, or when and under what conditions the conversation took place.

It is clear that this practice demonstrates the Georgian government's loyalty to the Kremlin regime and even raises suspicions of cooperation and communication with the Russian Federation's security forces. The discriminatory and restrictive policies against Russian and Belarusian activists are becoming symptomatic and are another indicator of the change in Georgia's foreign policy course since the war in Ukraine. While historically, Georgia was a place of political asylum for activists, journalists, and politicians fleeing neighboring authoritarian regimes, perceived as a safer country, in recent years, our country has been losing this perception and mission in the region. The Georgian Dream government is showing increasing loyalty and similarity to neighboring authoritarian regimes.

The Social Justice Center continues to defend the interests of Maxim Ivantsov and other activists in court.


Footnote and Bibliography

[1] The Social Justice Center has filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court challenging the administrative practice of arbitrary denial of entry to Georgia for foreigners. The contested norm in the lawsuit is being challenged in relation to the principle of equality recognized by Article 11, Section 1 of the Georgian Constitution, as well as the principle of fair administrative proceedings under Article 18, Section 1 of the Constitution https://socialjustice.org.ge/ka/products/sotsialuri-samartlianobis-tsentri-utskhoelebistvis-sakartveloshi-shemosvlaze-uaris-tvitnebur-praktikas-sakonstitutsio-sasamartloshi-asachivrebs

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