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29 Apr, 2024 02:46

Violence erupts at Georgian ‘foreign agents’ bill protest (VIDEOS)

Tbilisi’s attempt to crack down on NGOs has enraged the opposition and drawn criticism from the West
Violence erupts at Georgian ‘foreign agents’ bill protest (VIDEOS)

Thousands of people took to the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi on Sunday in opposition to a bill that would require all NGOs and other entities receiving funding from abroad to register as ‘foreign agents’ and report their activities to the authorities.

Earlier this month, the legislation, officially known as the bill ‘On the Transparency of Foreign Influence’, was approved by the parliament in its first reading. Opposition parties and rights groups called for mass protests against its expected passage, with the latest mass rally held on Sunday, ahead of the second reading next week.

The crowd marched through Shota Rustaveli Avenue in central Tbilisi with a large banner reading, “Yes – Europe,” and gathered in front of the parliament building in Republic Square waving Georgian, EU, and Ukrainian flags.

The situation escalated when a group of protesters tried to break through the barriers surrounding the government building, prompting riot police to use pepper spray. The authorities urged the protesters to maintain public order, saying that law enforcement units were mobilized to protect the “safety of citizens.”

“The protest... took on a violent manner. Participants of the rally verbally and physically confront the law enforcement officers at the site. Despite appeals made by police, activists attempted to break through the police cordon multiple times,” the Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a brief statement, adding that “to restore order, police administered special means established by law.”

The parliament, which is controlled by the Georgian Dream party, first attempted to introduce the law in March 2023, but backed down after two nights of violent protests. The original bill would have required organizations and individuals with more than 20% foreign funding to register as ‘agents of foreign influence’ and disclose their donors.

The opposition branded it a “Russian law” and accused the ruling party of modeling it on legislation introduced by Moscow in 2012.

The ruling party argued that it actually drew inspiration from the much harsher US Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, and insisted that the law is needed to combat “pseudo-liberal values” promoted by foreigners.

The new version of the legislation includes slight changes, including the designation of ‘agents of foreign influence’ being replaced with ‘an organization facilitating the interests of a foreign power’.

While the opposition says the legislation would jeopardize Georgia’s bid to join the EU, which granted Georgia candidacy status in December last year, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze insists that the bill would bring Georgia closer to the EU by making the country more transparent. President Salome Zourabichvili vowed to veto the bill if it passes the second and third readings.