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28 May, 2024 19:59

Georgian parliament overrides president’s veto of ‘foreign agents’ bill

The legislation was blasted by the US and the EU and provoked protests in the former Soviet nation
Georgian parliament overrides president’s veto of ‘foreign agents’ bill

The Georgian parliament has pushed through the divisive ‘foreign agents’ legislation, overriding a veto of the new law by the nation’s president Salome Zourabichvili, local media reported on Tuesday.

A total of 84 MPs out of 150 voted for the president’s veto to be repealed and the bill to be passed without any changes, while only four supported the president’s stance, the reports said. Under Georgian law, a presidential veto may be overridden with a simple parliamentary majority, which would require 76 votes.

Officially known as the Transparency of Foreign Influence Act, the bill would require NGOs, media outlets, and individuals receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad, to register as entities “promoting the interests of a foreign power” and to disclose their donors. Failure to comply would be punishable by a fine of up to $9,500.

Critics of the initiative, including opposition party members and President Zourabichvili, have branded the bill “a Russian law,” comparing it to legislation passed in Russia in 2012.

The law was initially passed by the parliament on May 14 but vetoed by Zourabichvili just four days later. According to some Georgian media reports, certain opposition MPs boycotted Tuesday’s vote altogether and left the parliament, joining a crowd of protesters outside instead.

The legislation proved to be polarizing, as it sparked weeks of street protests and clashes with police in the capital, Tbilisi. The bill was first announced in March 2023, but the government was forced to back down amid large-scale protests that erupted at that time. The riots occurred again last month when the government said it would proceed with the legislation despite pressure from the opposition.

The repeal of the veto on Tuesday also sparked immediate reaction in Brussels, which warned that it “will negatively impact Georgia’s EU path.” “The EU and its Member States are considering all options to react to these developments,” Brussels stated, without naming any specific steps it might take. The bloc “deeply regrets that the Georgian Parliament decided to override the President’s veto,” it added, urging Georgian authorities to “reverse this trend.”

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Washington would impose visa restrictions on those “undermining democracy in Georgia, as well as their family members.” He was referring to politicians backing the controversial bill. The warning was ridiculed as “comical” by the leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party’s parliamentary group.