Georgia: controversial law on “foreign agents” sparks new wave of protests

On May 1, the Georgian parliament passed the controversial law on “foreign agents” in the second reading, and clashes broke out on the streets of Tbilisi between activists and police officers.

The Georgian parliament passed the law on “foreign agents” in the second reading. 83 MPs voted in favor of the law, while 23 were against it.

According to Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, the third and final reading of the law on “foreign agents” is to take place in two weeks, Interpressnews reports. He anticipates overriding President Salome Zurabishvili’s veto in four weeks.

“The procedure is as follows: in two weeks we will have the third hearing, and in about a month to four weeks we will override the veto,” Kobakhidze said. 

Clashes broke out between activists and police in Tbilisi

After the parliamentary decision, a rally against the bill resumed in Tbilisi. In response, Interior Ministry officials began to disperse the activists. Police used tear gas and water cannons, as well as rubber bullets.

Opponents of the law compare it to the Russian law on foreign agents, which the Putin regime uses to persecute government opponents and independent journalists.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs justified the protesters’ aggressive behavior and attempted to damage parliament’s iron doors.

“In order to restore law and order, the Interior Ministry used special means, pepper spray, and water cannons as provided by law. We call on every participant in the rally to calmly express their protest, avoid violent actions, and obey the lawful instructions of law enforcement officers. The police will take action against anyone who violates law and order,” the statement reads.

Statements of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs

The Georgian parliament building has been declared a “red level,” requiring everyone inside to leave immediately, according to News Georgia. Only those individuals deemed absolutely necessary and approved by the head of parliament’s staff may enter the building. On May 1, at 23.00, the “red security regime” came into effect.

The publication also notes that the Georgian Interior Ministry denies the use of rubber bullets against demonstrators.

This was stated by Deputy Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze. He stated that the only weapons used are water cannons, tear gas, and pepper spray. At the same time, more and more TV channels are showing footage of the bullets themselves.

The Georgian Interior Ministry claimed that the protesters were using tear gas and asphyxiating gas, both of which are not available in any open-chain stores.

“We will definitely take an interest in this and find out how it got to the rally,” said Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze.

What do we know about Georgia’s law on “foreign agents”?

On March 7, 2023, the Georgian parliament approved in the first reading the draft law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence,” which largely imitates the Russian law on foreign agents.

After that, protests broke out in the country. Police fired tear gas at protesters. Reports indicate that police detained 66 protesters near the parliament building on the morning of March 8. The opposition announced new protests.

If Georgia finally adopted the draft law on “foreign agents,” the EU threatened “serious consequences.”.

The law in its current form risks having a chilling effect on civil society and media organisations, with negative consequences for the many Georgians benefiting from their work. This law is incompatible with EU values and standards. It goes against Georgia’s stated objective of joining the European Union, as supported by a large majority of Georgian citizens. Its final adoption may have serious repercussions on our relations.

EU statement

On March 9, the Georgian Dream’s political council, the People’s Power, and the parliamentary majority withdrew the law. Later, the country’s parliament rejected the bill in the second and final reading.

However, the Georgian parliament once again initiated the draft law on “foreign agents” on April 3, 2024.

The heads of the parliamentary foreign affairs committees of several European countries called on Tbilisi to abandon the bill after its re-initiation on April 6. The United States also stated that this law would steer Georgia away from the European path.

On April 8, President Salome Zurabishvili declared that she would veto the law if parliament passed it, despite the negative response from the public and the media.

On April 9, thousands of people took part in a rally in Tbilisi against the law, which the ruling Georgian Dream Party registered in parliament for the second time.

On April 16, the Georgian parliament postponed consideration of the law due to the protests.

On April 17, the Georgian parliament passed the scandalous law on “foreign agents” in the first reading for the second time, and protesters demanded a meeting with the prime minister.

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