NewsGeorgia in turmoil: Nationwide protests erupt against controversial law

Georgia in turmoil: Nationwide protests erupt against controversial law

Protest in Tbilisi against the law on "foreign agents"
Protest in Tbilisi against the law on "foreign agents"
Images source: © PAP | PAP/EPA/DAVID MDZINARISHVILI
8:07 AM EDT, May 13, 2024

For over a month, Georgians have fiercely opposed the "foreign agents" law, drawing inspiration from similarly contentious legislation in Russia. Their call to action is clear: they want the ruling party to withdraw the proposal. Last weekend, the movement's momentum surged, culminating early Monday when the police forcefully disbanded protesters gathered around the parliament building.

Residents of Tbilisi poured onto the streets on Saturday, challenging the "foreign agents" law akin to a Russian statute. This protest, marking the largest of its kind in recent Georgian history, lasted the entire weekend.

Newsgeorgia portal reported that early Monday, police forcefully cleared protesters from the Georgian parliament's entrances in Tbilisi. Videos showed officers physically confronting, even beating, demonstrators, including those lying on the ground. Around 20 individuals were detained, among them foreigners.

When history meets the present

The protest, stretching from Sunday night into Monday, was fundamentally peaceful, as confirmed by participants and captured on video. Police, however, formed lines in front of the parliament in the early hours, requesting the crowd disperse to allow lawmakers entry. It was then that the operation to "clear" the space commenced.

This recent overnight demonstration continues the month-long protest against the draft law on foreign influence transparency. The Parliamentary Legal Affairs committee is scheduled to review the bill, now in its third reading, on Monday. As the prime minister announced on Sunday, a final vote is expected later this week.

Protest against the "foreign agents" law

The proposed Georgian law draws from an initial, less stringent version of the Russian law, which later saw significant tightening, earning it the moniker "the Russian law" or "foreign agents" law. It mandates that legal entities and media with over 20% of their funding from foreign sources register and report as foreign influence agents. This legislation allows the Georgian Ministry of Justice to conduct inspections of these entities under any guise.

Critics argue that, similar to Russia's, the law could be leveraged to dismantle opposition and stifle independent media. Opponents, including mass protest participants, view the law as counter to Georgia's European Union ambitions.

Despite widespread protests, the Georgian parliament, dominated by the Georgian Dream party, passed the law in its second reading on May 1. Responses from the USA and EU have been of concern, urging the Georgian government to reconsider and highlighting inconsistencies with Georgia's EU aspirations and integration process. Having been granted EU candidate status in December 2023, Georgia enjoys formidable support from about 80% of its populace in favor of joining the Union.

A veto in sight

Despite large-scale protests similar to last year's, which led to the bill's temporary withdrawal, Georgian Dream remains unwavering, dismissing International critiques as internal interference. Prime Minister Irakli Kobachidze, asserting majority support among Georgians based on government-conducted surveys, announced the bill would proceed to a vote.

Following the third reading, President Salome Zurabishvili is expected to sign the law but has signaled a veto, arguing it contradicts Georgia's pro-European trajectory. Nevertheless, the ruling party possesses the parliamentary majority required to override this veto.
Throughout the protests, law enforcement has not hesitated to use water cannons, pepper spray, and tear gas against demonstrators.
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