Georgian Parliament adopts “foreign influence” law

Georgian Parliament adopts “foreign influence” law
Georgian Parliament adopts “foreign influence” law

Thousands of Georgians demonstrated on Tuesday after Parliament adopted a controversial bill on ‘foreign influence’, inspired by a Russian law.

During a third and final reading, deputies voted 84 votes ‘for’ and 30 votes ‘against’, according to images broadcast by public television.

In front of Parliament, around 2,000 demonstrators gathered chanting: ‘No to Russian law!’, surrounded by a large police presence, according to an AFP correspondent on site.

Demonstrators later blocked an artery in the center of the capital. Thirteen demonstrators were arrested ‘after disobeying police orders’, according to the Interior Ministry.

The wife of activist David Katsarava said her husband was beaten by police after his arrest.

Punches

A sign of the ambient tension, elected officials from the majority and the opposition briefly clashed with fists during the debates. Similar fights had already occurred in recent weeks.

Protests against this text, which targets media and NGOs receiving foreign funds, have lasted for more than a month.

Georgian President Salomé Zourabichvili, pro-European and former French diplomat in open conflict with the government, is expected to veto the text, but the ruling ‘Georgian Dream’ party claims to have enough votes to override it.

‘We will demonstrate until this Russian government leaves our country!’, swore Salomé, a 20-year-old demonstrator, just after the vote.

‘They are trying to deny the last 30 years’, or the path traveled since the fall of the USSR, Mariam Javakhichvili, 34, said earlier in the crowd of demonstrators.

Critics have dubbed the text ‘Russian law’ because of its similarity to legislation passed in Russia to suppress opposition.

The reference is sensitive in Georgia, a country which swings between the Russian and European spheres of influence and was invaded by Moscow during a military intervention in 2008.

While the police have, during certain rallies, used rubber bullets and tear gas, the adoption of the bill could lead to new clashes.

‘Obstacle’ to the EU

In 2023, massive demonstrations forced ‘Georgian Dream’ to abandon a first version of this text. But this time, the majority deputies ignored the protests.

Shortly before the vote, an EU spokesperson reaffirmed that the adoption of this text would nevertheless constitute a ‘serious obstacle’ on the country’s path to membership of the European Union.

US Deputy Secretary of State James O’Brien, who met Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze in Tbilisi on Tuesday, warned that Washington would take ‘financial sanctions and travel restrictions against the individuals involved’.

In addition, the aid of 390 million dollars allocated this year by the United States to Georgia would be ‘reviewed if we were to be considered adversaries and no longer partners,’ he stressed.

In the United Kingdom, Secretary of State for Europe Nusrat Ghani called on the Georgian government to ‘withdraw this legislation’.

‘This bill and the coordinated intimidation of demonstrators accompanying it do not correspond to the democratic values ​​of a country aspiring to join NATO,’ she said, quoted in a government press release.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told AFP on Tuesday that he was going to go to Georgia with his Icelandic, Estonian and Latvian counterparts to express their ‘concerns to political leaders’.

The law must require any NGO or media outlet receiving more than 20% of its funding from abroad to register as an ‘organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power’.

More ‘transparency’

The government assures that it simply aims to force organizations to show more ‘transparency’ about their funding.

The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, praised ‘the firm desire of the Georgian leaders to protect their country against any blatant interference’.

The controversy surrounding this text also highlights the influence of Bidzina Ivanishvili, a wealthy businessman perceived as the shadow leader of Georgia.

Prime minister from 2012 to 2013 and today honorary president of the ‘Georgian Dream’, he is suspected of proximity to Russia, the country where he made his fortune.

Even though he claims to want to bring Georgia into the EU, he has recently made hostile statements towards the West and sees NGOs as an enemy from within.

The moment is particularly sensitive in Georgia, where legislative elections will be held in October.

/ATS

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