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15 Apr, 2024 19:15

Protest against ‘foreign agent’ law in Georgia turns violent (VIDEO)

Opposition activists have reportedly tried to storm the parliament building
Protest against ‘foreign agent’ law in Georgia turns violent (VIDEO)

Demonstrators opposed to a law that would require transparency from NGOs financed from abroad have attempted to storm the parliament in Tbilisi and clashed with police.

Debate on the bill, entitled “On the Transparency of Foreign Influence,” was disrupted by violence on Monday when an opposition lawmaker assaulted a member of the ruling party during a speech. Meanwhile, thousands of opposition activists rallied outside in a repeat of last spring’s demonstrations.

A group of protesters attempted to break through the police line and surround the building, according to a TASS correspondent at the scene. Law enforcement responded by bringing up water cannons and ordering the protesters to disperse under the threat of force.

Shortly thereafter, the parliament’s legal affairs committee adopted the foreign agents bill in the first reading, setting the stage for it to advance in the full chamber. 

The government in Tbilisi said it had proposed the law to curtail the influence of foreign-funded NGOs in Georgia. Critics have labeled it a “Russian law,” claiming it is patterned after a bill Moscow adopted in 2012. The ruling Georgian Dream party, however, has argued that its inspiration is actually the US Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, and that the Georgian version is far more lenient. Moscow has denied having any connection to the measure being proposed.

Last year’s attempt to pass the legislation led to days of riots outside parliament and tremendous pressure on Tbilisi by the US and the EU. Although lawmakers initially passed it in the first reading, they changed their mind following the violence. 

The original bill would have required individuals and organizations with more than 20% foreign funding to register as “agents of foreign influence.” The new draft has replaced that phrase with “an organization facilitating the interests of a foreign power” but left the registration requirement intact.

President Salome Zourabichvili has argued against the bill, claiming it would derail Georgia’s push to join the EU. She described the situation outside the parliament as a “massive peaceful demonstration of civil society in Tbilisi against the ‘Russian law’,” and accused the police of using violence against “civilians defending their European future.”

“Georgia will not surrender to resovietisation!” Zourabichvili posted on X (formerly Twitter).

The White House has said that the proposed law would undermine freedom of speech and hurt Georgia’s ties with the West.