On the evening of March 7 and the night of March 8, a mass demonstration against the adoption of the law on “foreign agents” took place in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. The rally, during which demonstrators clashed with security forces, resulted in the dispersal of activists and detentions. In addition, the police opened several criminal files. However, the opposition announced a new action. The Eastern Herald tells and shows what happened in Tbilisi on the night of March 8.
The action began on the evening of March 7 near the Georgian Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue. Several thousand people gathered there who did not agree with the adoption of the law on “foreign agents”, which on the same day was approved at first reading by the deputies.
What law are you talking about. In February, MPs from the Power of the People movement, seen as an anti-Western political force, proposed two bills on requirements for organizations that receive foreign funding.
The first is the “foreign influence transparency” law. He suggests that if the share of foreign funding for non-governmental organizations and the media exceeds 20%, then they should be registered in a special register as “agents of foreign influence” and declare their income. In the event of refusal or evasion of registration, “foreign agents” expose themselves to a fine of up to 25,000 lari (about 9,500 dollars). At the same time, it is not mandatory to publicly state your “foreign agency”. It is this version of the initiative which was approved by the Georgian deputies on March 7: 76 deputies of the Georgian parliament voted for, 13 voted against.
The second law is “On the Registration of Foreign Agents”. It applies not only to non-governmental organizations and the media, but to all natural and legal persons. This version is similar to the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). His reading was scheduled for March 9.
The ruling Georgian Dream party, which its opponents accuse of being pro-Russian, said it supported both initiatives on foreign agents and stressed the need to make the situation in the country more transparent. They also claim that their bill is based on the American experience. The opposition compares the law to its Russian equivalent and fears that its passage will harm the country’s chances of joining the European Union.
The action brought together politicians, public figures, representatives of non-governmental organizations and ordinary citizens. Protesters chanted “Sakartvelo!” (Georgia), slogans against Russian President Vladimir Putin, and also held the flags of Georgia, Ukraine and the European Union. At the same time, opposition MPs Khatuna Samnidze, Anna Natsvlishvili and Salome Samadashvili were in parliament at the office of Legislative Speaker Shalva Papuashvili, who demanded a meeting with him. However, the guards did not let them pass.
The Georgia Department of the Interior said the action “took on a violent character.” To disperse the demonstrators, the authorities mobilized special forces. After some protesters tried to approach the back entrance of parliament with flags, special forces from the Georgian Interior Ministry blocked the entrance and MPs began to be evacuated.
Subsequently, police used water cannons, pepper spray and tear gas against protesters. Some time later, protesters tried to break down the barricades blocking the passage in front of the parliament, then started throwing fireworks in the direction of the police. During the action, Molotov cocktails were also thrown at the security forces, but the opposition believes that such actions were a provocation by the authorities, which would lead to the dispersal of the demonstrators. Consequently, the police empty street in front of the parliament, but the demonstrators remained in the alleys for some time.
How informed Mtavari channel, citing the Interior Ministry, during the action 66 people were arrested. In addition, the police announced the opening of an investigation into the acts of violence against the security forces.
However, in the morning, the opposition party “United National Movement” announcement a new demonstration at 3:00 p.m. at the same place near the parliament on Rustaveli Avenue. The party said the rallies would continue until the opposition “victory”.
“It is important to continue the fight until the end of the pro-Russian regime in Georgia,” said Levan Khabeishvili, chairman of the United National Movement.
The Georgian president opposed the bill
President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili spoke in defense of the demonstrators and called the bill unconstitutional, since Georgia’s desire to join the European Union is enshrined in the fundamental law of the country (Article 78).
“I appeal to you, who stand tonight on Rustaveli, as I myself have done many times. I am with you because today you are representing Free Georgia. Georgia, which sees its future in Europe and will not allow anyone to take that future away from it,” she said.
Furthermore, Zurbashvili called the ‘foreign agents’ law ‘dictated by Moscow’, and also said she would veto the foreign agents initiative, which, however, can be overturned by a vote. majority in parliament (in September 2022, Zurabishvili vetoed a bill on expanding the powers of investigative bodies, however, his parliament overcome).
What powers does the Georgian President have. Georgia is a parliamentary republic, so most of the power in the country is concentrated in the hands of parliament. However, the president has the right to dissolve the government and parliament (and in the case of parliament, the signature of the prime minister is not required), to declare martial law or a state of emergency, to peace (these decisions must then be approved by parliament), call elections and pardon prisoners. Additionally, the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
Ruling party in Georgia: the purpose of the law is the fight against “radicals”
Chairman of the ruling party “Georgian Dream” Irakli Kobakhidze, commenting on the recent action, appointed The objective of the pending law on foreign agents is to combat the “forces” that finance “radicalism” in Georgia.
“The result of the passage of this bill will be that everything will become transparent and, finally, the forces that have funded radicalism and polarization in Georgia will refrain from funding such actions in the future. This will be the result of this law,” says Kobakhidze.
He also said he was confident that the “passions” and “emotions” that now exist in society because of the bill will “calm down”. Moreover, Kobakhidze mention Maidan, which took place in Ukraine in 2014. According to him, these events brought Ukraine to a war, “in which they lost Crimea and most of Lugansk and Donetsk”, as well as a new military conflict. However, Kobakhidze appointed Georgian opposition “Bolsheviks”, and also said that they have nothing to do with Europe and the West.
The European Union and the United States have condemned the bill
European diplomat Josep Borrell declaredthat the enacted Foreign Agents Bill in its current form “could have a chilling effect on civil society” and the media. He also pointed out that this law is “incompatible with EU values and standards”.
“This is contrary to Georgia’s stated goal of joining the European Union, which is supported by the vast majority of Georgian citizens. Its definitive acceptance could have serious consequences on our relations. The European Union calls on Georgia to support its commitment to promote democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and recalls the people’s right to peaceful protest,” Borrell said.
US State Department Representative Ned Price, in turn appointed “erroneous” comparisons of the Georgian bill with the American FARA. “Statements that the Georgian bill is based on FARA are misrepresentations. And in fact, this bill appears to be based on similar Russian and Hungarian legislation, not FARA or any other US legislation,” he said.
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