NewsGeorgia stirs controversy with "foreign agents" bill amid massive protests

Georgia stirs controversy with "foreign agents" bill amid massive protests

Protest in Tbilisi. The parliament passed a controversial law.
Protest in Tbilisi. The parliament passed a controversial law.

6:03 AM EDT, May 3, 2024

The Georgian parliament has passed the controversial "foreign agents" bill during its second reading, prompting thousands to once again take to the streets of Tbilisi in protest. The police have resorted to using water cannons in an attempt to control the crowds.

According to the DPA agency, 83 deputies voted in favor of the bill, sparking widespread controversy, while 23 opposed it. The Georgian parliament has 150 deputies.

Protests against the contentious legislation began in early April. The most recent protest in Tbilisi occurred on Tuesday, with police deploying water cannons and tear gas against the demonstrators. Critics label this legislation as Kremlin-inspired and refer to it as "Russian law." During one protest, the United National Movement opposition party reported that its leader, Levan Khabeishvili, was severely beaten by the police, suffering a concussion, facial fractures, and loss of teeth.

A replica of the Russian law?

According to the New York Times, the proposed legislation requires non-governmental organizations and media outlets receiving over 20% of their funding from foreign sources to register as entities "acting in the interests of a foreign power" and file special annual financial reports. The website also notes the striking similarity of the Georgian bill to a law enacted in Russia in 2012, which was utilized to harshly quell dissent and stigmatize opponents of the Kremlin.

Under the Georgian proposal, foreign-funded organizations would be added to a special registry of foreign influence agents, subject to control by the Ministry of Justice under any pretext.

Critics argue that the law aims to draw Georgia closer to Russia, and similar legislation has already been adopted in two other former USSR states: Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. As pointed out by the Reuters agency, the bill requires one more vote to be enacted.

The ruling Georgian Dream party resumed deliberation on the heavily criticized bill in early April. Following mass protests and appeals from Western countries last year, the party had initially ceased working on the legislation. However, it is now determined to pass the law, arguing it will ensure "financial transparency" of non-governmental organizations, the opposition, and the media.

Officials from the USA, EU, and UN have expressed concern over the recommencement of the bill and have urged Georgian authorities to abandon the project. They highlight the bill's contradiction with Georgia's European ambitions and integration process. Georgia was granted EU candidate status in December 2023.

Proponents of the law argue it will bolster Georgia's national sovereignty against Western efforts to engage Georgia in confrontation with Russia, as noted by Reuters.

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