IN an unusual display of independence, Soviet lawyers and political activists are strongly criticizing new decrees on political freedoms, and are questioning the official version of events surrounding the killing of at least 19 people in Georgia on April 9. The deaths occurred after troops moved to disperse a nationalist demonstration in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
Legal specialists say it would be unusual for a republic-level leadership like Georgia to take a decision to deploy troops without checking with Moscow. In a speech published last Sunday, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze said the Georgian government had itself decided to use troops against demonstrators and had brushed aside the objections of the regional military commander. But Soviet activists describe the killings as a deliberate attempt by anti-reform elements in the communist leadership to undermine Mikhail Gorbachev's reform program.
The activists say controversial or potentially critical decisions have in the past been taken either while Mr. Gorbachev was out of Moscow, or when he had just returned from overseas.
Thus, troops were first deployed in Tbilisi while Gorbachev and his close associate Alexander Yakovlev were in London. Controversial new legislation was published the day after Gorbachev's return. Two decrees widely described as repressive were passed last summer while he was on vacation. And an article which has since been officially described as an anti-reform manifesto was published in March 1988 on the eve of his departure for Yugoslavia. The latest pieces of legislation are intended to replace the notorious laws on anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, long used to harass and imprison political dissidents.
The new decrees are described as ``an important political and legal event'' by Vladimir Kudryavtsev, director of the country's major legal think-tank, the Institute for State and Law.
But two senior members of his institute criticize one of the new articles, 11/1. This makes the discrediting of government bodies and officials punishable by up to three years in prison or a fine of 2,000 rubles ($3,300).
Legal specialist Alexander Yakovlev (not related to Gorbachev's adviser) says the new article is a conscious effort to ``strengthen public order'' and thus limit political debate.
DR. Yakovlev heads the institute's Criminal Law Department, which would normally have been consulted on such questions. But, he says, ``We saw it for the first time when it was published in the press.'' When legal specialists were consulted earlier on the new decrees, he said, they did not contain the ``frankly anti-constitutional norms'' in Article 11/1.
Joining in the criticism, Boris Kurashvili of the same institute describes Article 11/1 as ``exceedingly infelicitous,'' and attributes this to two reasons: haste and the incompetence of those in government who drew it up.
Dr. Kurashvili says he is confident the article will soon be withdrawn. And Yakovlev, who is running for an Academy of Sciences' seat in the new Soviet Parliament, notes that the new legislature would have the final say on the decrees. He singled out article 11/1 for particular criticism in speeches to voters this week.
Asked about the Georgian decision to deploy the armed forces, Yakovlev notes that the Soviet armed forces have a centralized command structure. The local commander has ``a certain relationship'' with the republic where his troops are stationed, but it is hard to imagine such a decision being taken without reference to senior officers in Moscow.
Kurashvili refuses to exclude the possibility that the Georgian government decided to call out the troops. He says, however, that he has difficulty identifying the legal basis for such a decision and also notes that republic leaders usually confer with Moscow before taking major decisions.
The issue of placing troops under the command of republics' governments is the object of debate in Moscow. Calls have grown in the Baltic republics for the creation of territorial units composed of local recruits. Commentators of various political views object that if local governments are given control over troops, disputes such as those between Armenia and Azerbaijan could become deadly serious affairs.