News'Foreign Agent' bill to take effect closer to fall amid protests

'Foreign Agent' bill to take effect closer to fall amid protests

Protests in Georgia
Protests in Georgia
Images source: © Licensor | Shakh Aivazov

10:32 AM EDT, May 30, 2024

Transparency of Foreign Influence Law, often referred to as the 'Foreign Agent Bill,' is currently awaiting the head of state's or parliament's signature. After its publication in the official journal and its formal enactment, it may take several months before it begins to function in practice. The media have speculated on when this might happen.

The portal reported that the Transparency of Foreign Influence Law, also known as the Russian Act, will start operating closer to fall. The media predict that registering non-governmental organizations and media as "foreign agents," as stipulated in the Act, will enter an "active phase" at the beginning of fall, just weeks before the parliamentary elections scheduled for late October. This could impact the election observation process, which is crucial for civil society and carried out by third-sector organizations.

Georgia: media on the procedure for the Act's implementation

The Georgian editorial office of Radio Free Europe (Radio Tavisupleba) describes the procedures related to the Act's implementation in detail. On May 28, the parliament controlled by the Georgian Dream party overrode the presidential veto against the Act, voting 84 to 84 (with four votes against and a boycott of voting by the majority of the opposition).

Once the Act was sent back to the president (as announced on Wednesday), President Salome Zurabisz will have five days to sign it. If she does not, which seems most likely, the chair of parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, will sign it within five days. It will then be officially published and come into force 15 days later.

Upon publication of the Act, the Ministry of Justice and the National Public Registry Agency will have 60 days to create a portal for registering "organizations implementing the interests of a foreign power." Once this stage is complete, organizations and media receiving over 20% of their funding from abroad will be required to register.

"Foreign influence agents": application review and registration

This procedure is not straightforward. The Radio Tavisupleba portal writes that the countdown begins on the 60th day after the Act's publication. Institutions that believe they meet the "foreign influence agents" criteria will have one month to submit a written application for registration. They will then need to complete a detailed application, including information on income and expenditures for the previous year (the law applies retroactively).

The National Public Registry Agency will have 30 days to verify the application and register a specific organization as an "agent." Their list will be publicly available.

The Georgian portal notes that the Ministry of Justice will be authorized by law to obtain information about individuals associated with the organization during the application verification process. This includes sensitive and private information such as political views, origin, religion, or health data. Failure to provide such information could result in a fine of 5,000 lari (approx. $1,800), which can be imposed repeatedly.

List of "foreign agents": severe penalties threaten

If the organization refuses to voluntarily register on the list of "foreign agents," a fine of 25,000 lari (approximately $8,900) is foreseen. The state will then register the organization itself. Should the organization fail to file a financial declaration, it will receive another fine of 10,000 lari (approximately $3,600). The state can conduct further monthly inspections and impose a fine of 20,000 lari (roughly $7,200) each time it finds non-compliance with the regulations.

The Foreign Agents Act also provides what the media call a "snitch mechanism." Anyone can file a statement alleging that a given structure is a "foreign agent." Based on this, state structures will begin verification.

Georgia: mass protests continue

Since mid-April, mass protests against the Act have been ongoing in Georgia. Critics argue that it will enable authorities to destroy civil society and implement an authoritarian model of governance similar to Russia's. They fear that, in practice, this will mean a return to the Russian sphere of influence, noting that adopting the Act has caused an unprecedented crisis in Tbilisi's relations with the West. Georgians, who are overwhelmingly pro-European, fear primarily deviating from the path of European integration.

The Georgian authorities argue that they are only concerned with "transparency and defending sovereignty." They label their critics as the "party of global war" and accused "external forces" of organizing the protests.

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