Georgia’s ruling party brings back disputed Russia-style ‘foreign agent’ law

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Georgia’s government is reviving a controversial bid to brand charities, pressure groups and opposition media outlets as agents of foreign influence.

The move comes just over a year after the proposals were dropped in the face of massive public outcry and huge street protests in Tbilisi.

The ruling Georgian Dream party on Wednesday confirmed that the so-called foreign agent law would be reintroduced. According to its parliamentary leader, Mamuka Mdinaradze, the proposals will be virtually unchanged, and organizations receiving funding from overseas would be obliged to declare they are “carrying out the interests of a foreign power.”

According to analysis by Human Rights Watch when the law was first proposed, the bill would “impose additional onerous reporting requirements, inspections, and administrative and criminal liability, including up to five years in prison for violations.”

Russia has used similar measures to squeeze out civil society groups critical of the government. The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, previously said Georgia’s version of the law would be “incompatible with EU values and standards” and “goes against Georgia’s stated objective of joining the EU.”

Thousands took to the streets of Georgia over two days in March 2023 as part of protests against the legislation that saw police using tear gas and riot gear against demonstrators. The government was forced to drop the bill “unconditionally,” although hinted it could bring it back at a later date.

Eka Gigauri, executive director of anti-corruption NGO Transparency International Georgia, which itself would be likely to be branded a foreign agent, accused Georgian Dream of following “the Russian playbook.”

“We are not going to stigmatize ourselves and put this sign up saying ‘we are spies’ because we consider ourselves patriots doing whatever we can to make this country better,” she told POLITICO.

Just last week, the Georgian government announced it would introduce a bill to criminalize the promotion of same-sex relationships, similar to Russia’s tough “LGBTQ+ propaganda” rules. That bill was put forward despite Brussels warning the prospective EU member country, which was granted candidate status in December 2023, to strengthen human rights protections.

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