Europe

A Proposed Law Targeting ‘Foreign Interests’ in Georgia Riles the Opposition

For the past month, the Georgian capital of Tbilisi has been engulfed in turmoil. Protesters have taken to the streets of the city night after night. A fistfight broke out between legislators in the country’s Parliament. And over the weekend, there were clashes between police and protesters at a large demonstration in the center of the city.

The trigger for the unrest was a decision early this month by the governing party, Georgian Dream, to push a bill through Parliament that the pro-Western opposition believes could be used to crack down on dissent and hamper the country’s efforts to join the European Union.

The draft law would require nongovernmental groups and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to register as organizations “carrying the interests of a foreign power” and provide annual financial statements about their activities. Violations would incur fines equivalent to more than $9,000.

The government backed down on a previous attempt to pass the law last year after facing massive protests, but this time appears determined to push it through Parliament.

The legislation resembles a similar measure that Moscow implemented in 2012 that has been used as a heavy-handed tool to stifle and stigmatize anti-Kremlin advocacy groups and media organizations. Critics say that one of the aims of the bill, which they call “the Russian law,” is to align Georgia, a former Soviet country of 3.6 million, more closely with Moscow.

Similar measures have been adopted by two other former Soviet nations, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

In a video screen grab released by the Parliament of Georgia, a member of the governing Georgian Dream party is punched by an opposition legislator during discussion of the foreign agents bill. Credit…Parliament of Georgia, via Reuters
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