Georgia is set to adopt amendments to the country's Criminal Code that will set tougher punishments for those found guilty of participating in illegal armed groups abroad or of recruiting others to do the same.
According to the Civil.ge website, Georgia's parliament debated the proposed amendments on April 15, and the bill to amend the Criminal Code is set to have its first reading on April 17.
The proposed package of amendments includes a number of reforms, including the criminalization of fighting abroad. Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Levan Izoria said during the discussion of the bill on April 15 that the amendments are primarily aimed at preventing Georgians from traveling to Syria and Iraq to join militant groups like Islamic State (IS).
Regardless of the proposed changes to the law to toughen punishments for those who fight in Syria and Iraq, Izoria said that additional measures need to be taken to prevent youth, particularly those from the Pankisi Gorge, from being radicalized and recruited to groups like IS.
Georgia needs to offer Pankisi residents a "basis for other interests" in order to encourage their "integration into society," Izoria said.
The proposed changes to Georgia's Criminal Code come amid increased concerns in the Pankisi Gorge after two teenagers were discovered to have run away to Syria to join IS.
The two teens, 16-year-old Muslim Kushtanashvili and 18-year-old Ramzan Bagakashvili, flew to Turkey from an airport in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, sometime around April 2. A photograph apparently showing the two in Syria was published by several Georgian media outlets this week.
The parents of the two boys have asked questions about the government's role in allowing Kushtanashvili and Bagakashvili to depart from Georgia to Turkey, and are also reportedly trying to uncover those responsible for recruiting their sons to IS.
While Deputy Interior Minister Izoria talked about the need to integrate young people from Pankisi into society, the departure of the two Pankisi teens for an IS training camp in Syria has revealed another problem. The parents of the teens say details of their sons' departure to Syria suggests that there are recruitment networks targeting and helping young people to join IS.
Kushtanashvili's mother, Aminat Tsintsalashvili, told Georgia's Pirveli Radio on April 14 that she had no idea why the two teenagers had left Pankisi and that she hadn't been able to find out how her 16-year-old son had managed to obtain a passport. Kushtanashvili had never even been to Tbilisi, she said.
She said that her son must have been assisted by strangers.
Tsintsalashvili said that she had spoken with her son once by telephone since he went to Syria. The 16-year-old told his mother not to worry. "Don't worry, I will come soon. If they let me go, I will leave tomorrow!" Kushtanashvili told his mother, she said.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk