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Georgia Rocked By Protests After Government Pushes For Putin-like 'Foreign Agent' Bill

For weeks, thousands of citizens have been protesting against the Georgian government's move which threatens freedom of the press and Georgia's membership bid for the European Union.

AP
Georgia Rocked By Protests After Government Pushes For Putin-like 'Foreign Agent' Bill Photo: AP
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Mass protests and riots have rocked Georgia after its government came closer to passing a bill similar to Russian President Vladimir Putin's "foreign agent" bill.

For weeks, thousands of citizens have been protesting against the Georgian government's move which threatens freedom of the press and Georgia's membership bid for the European Union.

Following the protests by opponents, citizens and others, Riot police was deployed in the capital, Tbilisi. The protestors were met with tear gas and water cannons as they moved to denounce the Russian-inspired law, following which, dozens were arrested.

What is Georgia's Foreign Influence Bill?

Georgia's "foreign influence" bill would require all media, non-government organisations and non profits to register as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power" if 20 percent of their funding is from a foreign source.

On Wednesday, Georgia's parliament approved the second reading of the "foreign influence" bill with 83 votes in favour.

Under this bill, the media, NGOs and other non profits would also be monitored by Georgia's justice ministry and could be forced to share sensitive information or face fines of up to 25,000 Georgian lari (9,400 US Dollars)

The bill, which is now one step closer to becoming a law, needs final approval from the Parliament. The third and final vote is expected to take place by the end of this month.

As per the Georgian Dream government, this foreign influence bill will work towards "boosting transparency" of foreign funding into the former Soviet Union country.

However, opposition members, several lawmakers and many citizens have stated that this bill put forth by the ruling Georgian Dream party will not only crush dissent and take away free press, but will also harm the country's potential membership into the EU.

Opposing voices have also stated that this bill could be used to crush dissent, in a manner similar to Russia, just before Georgia's parliamentary elections later in the year.

What Is Russia's 'Foreign Agent' Law?

The Foreign Agent Law in Russia was introduced in 2012 and since then has been used to marginalize and crush dissenting voices challenging the Kremlin and its leader - Vladimir Putin.

Under this bill, anyone who receives support from outside of Russia or has been influenced by foreign forces must register and declare themselves as foreign agents.

Once they register themselves under this law, the "foreign agents" are subject to audits. Since its inception, the law has been criticized by international bodies and opposition in Russia, who have claimed that it is used to clamp down on free press, human rights and any voice against Vladimir Putin's regime.

The law was introduced in response to the protests against Putin's return to the presidency during the 2012 presidential elections. Fast forward to 2024, Putin is now the longest-serving leader of the Russian Federation since Joseph Stalin during the USSR days.

EU Warns Georgia Against Foreign Influence Bill

Apart from the concerns of press freedom and right to speech and expression, Georgians are worried that this bill may harm its bid to join the European Union.

In 2022, the European Union had recognized Georgia's accession to the bloc and established its eligibility to become a member. In December 2023, the EU granted "candidate" status to the country, along with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine.

With this new bill, EU President Ursula von der Leyen has warned Tbilisi and stated that its work to pass the foreign influence bill could harm its ambitions of formally joining the European Union.

Along with the EU, the United States is also "deeply concerned" by the bill and "what it could do in terms of stifling dissent and free speech".

The bill does not become a law until it has President Salome Zurabishvili's approval. However, despite the president's vow to veto the foreign influence bill, the Georgian Dream party has a majority in the parliament and has the power to overrule the president's decision and ask the speaker of the house to make the final call instead.

Despite Georgia's condemnation for Russia and its turbulent history and relations, the ruling party wants to have the this "Russian law" implemented by the end of this month.

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