During the state of emergency Parliament is reviewing the legislation on transferring the state forests to the Patriarchate of Georgia
On 16 April the Parliament of Georgia intends to review the draft law that enables the Georgian Orthodox Church to receive the state forests with the right of ownership.
The country is facing the biggest challenge to struggle with the COVID 19 epidemic. The only institution that defies the emergency rules set by the State, is the Patriarchate of Georgia. Instead of carrying out strict measures and taking political responsibility, the government leads negotiations off and on with the Orthodox Church. Due to the failure of the government, the health and lives of Georgian citizens are under jeopardy. In this critical moment for all, when the state institutions are working under emergency regime, the Parliament of Georgia is considering granting additional property-related privileges to the Orthodox Church. Taking into account the given time and context, discussing these legislative amendments is especially alarming.
With the initiative of the government, the amendments are proposed to the Code of Forest of Georgia, Law of Georgia on State Property and other normative acts.
According to the draft law on State Property Georgian Orthodox Church will be enabled to take into ownership the forest (not more than 20 hectare (200,000m²) for each case) located nearby the churches and monasteries, and also territories of the forests that were already in possession of the Church. No other organization can enjoy similar rights.
Pursuant to the current Code of Forest of Georgia, Georgian Orthodox Church can be the owner of funds of forest (article 9), aslo, poses territories with the right to administer them together with the state. The Code regulates only possession of forests for the Orthodox Church. However one of the aims of the proposed draft law is the establishment of the procedures for the Church to take territories of the forests into ownership. According to the draft law, transfering of the territory of the forest to Orthodox Church into ownership is regulated by procedures under the Law of Georgia on State Property.
According to the Law of Georgia on State Property, the property can be transferred to the Georgian Patriarchate for a fee. It should be noted that the transfer can be done for a symbolic price 1 GEL too. TDI responded to these amendments earlier in February too and negatively assessed granting the additional privileges to the Patriarchate.
The Parliament supported these amendments with the first hearing in October 2019; On 19 March 2020 the bill was put to a second hearing at the plenary session. The final, third hearing in the committee will be held on April 16, after which the parliament will have the opportunity to finally approve the changes at the plenary session.
We call on the Parliament of Georgia to immediately stop reviewing the amendments to the Forest Code, the Law on State Property and the package of legislative changes, which grants additional property and financial privileges to the dominant religious organization. Such steps of the government jeopardize the constitutional order and once again violate the principles of equality, separation of state and religion and rule of law.