Georgia parliament overturns veto on foreign agents law

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Georgia parliament overturns veto on foreign agents law

Georgia’s MPs have voted to overturn a presidential veto on a contentious “transparency on foreign influence” bill – often dubbed “foreign agents law” – which has sparked several weeks of protests in the capital Tbilisi.

Under the legislation, media and non-governmental organisations that receive over 20% of their funding from abroad will have to register as “organisations acting in the interest of a foreign power”, submit themselves to stringent audits, or face punitive fines.

A plenary session on Tuesday saw the vote pass with 84 votes for – mainly from the governing Georgian Dream party – versus four votes against, with the opposition abstaining.

The law had already been passed on 14 May, but was then vetoed by pro-Western President Salome Zourabishvili.

The law is expected to come into force in 60 days’ time.

The Georgian government argues it will ensure transparency of money flowing to support NGOs and protect Georgia from foreign interference.

But its opponents – who have dubbed it “Russian law” because of its similarities with an existing law in Russia – believe the real reason for the legislation is to stifle dissent ahead of October’s parliamentary elections.

The EU said it “deeply regretted” the Georgian parliament’s decision.

EU officials had previously warned the bill could jeopardise further progress within the bloc. Georgia was granted candidate country status in December 2023.

Many NGOs have already announced they will not abide by legislation that requires them to state they are “acting in the interest of a foreign power” as they say it is “insulting” and “factually incorrect”.

On Tuesday, as MPs debated the bill, people again gathered outside parliament amid a heavy police presence.

When the result of the vote was announced, many protesters shouted “slaves!” and “Russians!”

Since the protests began, police have repeatedly used force to disperse the protesters.

Dozens of opponents of the foreign agents law have reported being beaten up or intimidated, with insulting posters stuck outside their homes or threatening phone calls.

Still, more than six weeks since the start of the protests, demonstrators – many of them young – feel there is no option other than to continue taking to the streets.

“Our whole future is stake, it’s either Europe or nothing,” 18-year-old Kato said as she stood outside the parliament with her friends.

Observers believe passing the foreign agents law has turned into a battle for survival for Georgian Dream, which has managed to alienate many of its traditional partners in the process.

The US joined the EU in warning the law would entail consequences. The US State Department said last week that travel restrictions would be imposed on those who “undermine democracy” in Georgia, as well as their family members.

But the authorities brushed the warnings off. The Secretary General of Georgian Dream, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, said there would never be a “trade-off” against the interests of the country.

Knowing that she had run out of options to stop the government from passing the bill, on Monday Ms Zourabishvili presented a new charter which she said would be a plan to move Georgia towards Europe.

“To rebuild trust, we need a new political reality: a distinct unity, different elections, a different parliament, and a different government,” she wrote on X.

The charter includes the abolition of laws which she said were harming Georgia’s chances of EU membership, as well as significant reforms designed to depoliticise the justice system and security services.

Ms Zourabishvili invited all opposition parties to sign the charter before 1 June and go united into parliamentary elections in October.

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