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Protests grow in Tbilisi against draft law on foreign agents


For the second day in Tbilisi, a large-scale street protest against the Foreign Agents Bill, which the Georgian parliament passed its first reading on March 7, continues. Consideration of the bill took place against the background of protests by opposition MPs in the Georgian parliament building and a rally in front of it.

Despite the rally being dispersed on March 7 with the use of water cannons and tear gas by police, as well as the arrest of 66 protesters, many more people came to the rally on March 8. As of this writing, 10 other people have been arrested in today’s action for disobeying police orders.

“The ruling party did not expect such a protest. The “Georgian Dream” thought that representatives of NGOs, individual opponents would take part in the demonstration, and that would be the end of it. But instead they got a popular protest,” Armaz Akhvlediani, an independent MP, told Georgian media on March 8.

The demonstrators demand that the authorities release “persons illegally detained”, as well as the withdrawal of the bill from parliament.

The authorities indicate that they have already sent the draft law to the Venice Commission for examination and that the adoption of this law is a long process in which all interested parties will be able to participate. Even if the fact that the draft law was first submitted for evaluation to European experts, according to the ruling party, confirms the adherence of the Georgian Dream to European ideals. The ruling party promises to take into account the opinion of the Venice Commission on the proposed bill, even if the opponents believe that the promises of the Georgian Dream are not credible.

Georgian Dream Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze at a March 8 briefing again repeated the narrative of the bill’s authors. In particular, the fact that the document, considered in the Georgian parliament, would be an analogue of American law. At the same time, Kobakhidze regretted that “the radical opposition and its media”, as he believes, managed to convince some citizens that the “American” draft law on foreign agents is “Russian”, which has caused “sincere excitement” among citizens.

At the same time, Kobakhidze announced the ruling party’s desire for integration into the European Union and promised to move the country along the path of the EU “with the preservation of Christianity … sovereignty.. . and dignity”.

The State Department, members of Congress and U.S. senators, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Georgia, have repeatedly stated that the Georgian bill has nothing to do with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in force in the United States since 1938 and that, if passed, Georgia’s law would negatively impact freedom of expression in the country and jeopardize Georgia’s plans for Euro-Atlantic integration.

During a March 7 briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price commented for the fourth time in three weeks on the situation surrounding the Georgia bill, which he called “a huge setback (if adopted).

“It will be a blow to the aspirations of the Georgian people. It would be a setback to the ability of the United States to continue to be a partner of the Georgian people,” Price said.

Regarding the possible imposition of US sanctions against those responsible for the bill, Ned Price said, “I will not name specific individuals or companies who may be subject to US or other sanctions. But we have a set of tools that allow us, anywhere in the world, to hold accountable anyone responsible for the suppression of human rights.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said on March 7 that Georgia’s draft law “is not in line with EU values ​​and standards” and “contradicts Georgia’s stated goal of joining the EU”.

“The final adoption of this law will have a serious impact on our relations. The EU calls on Georgia to keep its promises to promote democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights, and reminds it of the people’s right to peaceful protest,” Borrell stressed.

Recall that after the introduction in Russia in 2012 of the Russian law on foreign agents, independent NGOs and journalists ceased to work in the Russian Federation. Opponents of the Georgian bill say the same will happen in Georgia if the Georgian parliament finally approves the controversial “Foreign Influence Transparency” bill.

Copyright © 2023 The Eastern Herald.

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