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14 May, 2024 16:14

Fists fly again in Georgian parliament (VIDEO)

Lawmakers got into a brawl before ultimately passing new ‘foreign agent’ legislation
Fists fly again in Georgian parliament (VIDEO)

Lawmakers from opposing parties in the Georgian parliament once again came to blows on Tuesday as they attempted to reach an agreement on a controversial ‘foreign agents’ bill. In spite of the commotion, the legislation was ultimately passed in its third and final reading by a majority vote.

Officially entitled ‘On The Transparency of Foreign Influence’, the bill will require Georgian non-profit organizations, media outlets and individuals with more than 20% foreign funding to register as entities ‘promoting the interests of a foreign power’ and disclose their income and donors. Refusal to do so will be punishable by a fine of up to $9,500.

Before the votes were cast, a heated debate erupted in the chamber and some members resorted to fisticuffs, ultimately involving several dozen people pushing and shoving each other. The whole episode was broadcast live by Georgian television from the Parliament building in Tbilisi.

The brawl marked the third time that discussions surrounding the bill devolved into chaos. The previous fight broke out earlier this month between members of the parliamentary majority and the opposition ahead of a plenary session dedicated to discussing the bill.

Protesters opposed to the law have been holding demonstrations outside the legislature, which have been repeatedly dispersed by the police. Critics of the legislation have described it as similar to a law passed in Russia that requires companies with funding from abroad to register as ‘foreign agents’.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has expressed support for the demonstrators and vowed to veto the bill. However, the move would mostly be symbolic as a presidential veto can be overridden by a simple majority in Parliament.

The US and EU have criticized the proposal, claiming that it would complicate the work of many foreign NGOs. Brussels warned Tbilisi that it could lose its EU candidate status if it passed the bill.

Proponents of the law, however, have insisted that similar legislation exists in the US, with Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze calling it a “necessary condition” to move closer to the EU by making the country more transparent. 

The head of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Mamuka Mdinaradze, has said that the new bill is necessary to protect the country from foreign-funded protests, radical political parties, and propagandistic media.