US announces travel ban for Georgian Dream politicians behind ‘foreign agent’ law

Posted by
Check your BMI

TBILISI, Georgia — Politicians and officials in Georgia responsible for pushing through a controversial bill that would brand Western-funded NGOs and media outlets as “foreign agents” will face visa bans, the U.S. State Department confirmed Friday.

The State Department will also conduct a comprehensive review of bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and Georgia, which currently sees the country receive significant military and economic support.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Georgia’s new legislation, brought forward by the governing Georgian Dream party, “would stifle the exercise of freedoms of association and expression, stigmatize organizations that serve the citizens of Georgia, and impede independent media organizations.”

As a result, he said, Washington will impose travel restrictions on those “complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia,” as well as their family members and others “responsible for suppressing civil society and freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia through a campaign of violence or intimidation.”

Blinken said the U.S. hopes “Georgia’s leaders will reconsider the draft law and take steps to move forward with their nation’s democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” adding that future actions would determine Washington’s next steps.

The foreign agent bill, which would apply to any organizations receiving more than 20 percent of its funding from abroad, is expected to be passed into law by a final vote in parliament on Wednesday. The Council of Europe’s top legal body warned the sweeping measures are open to being abused to silence groups critical of the state and echoes similar rules used by Vladimir Putin’s Russia to shutter civil society groups. The EU has said it would torpedo Georgia’s prospects of membership, just six months after it was awarded candidate status.

Unlike the U.S.’s Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), simply receiving income from overseas would be sufficient to be branded an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power,” whether that is true or not. Combined with a new proposed ban on “LGBT propaganda” and increasingly anti-Western rhetoric from Georgian Dream, there are fears the country is backsliding on human rights.

The ruling party insists the law is needed to protect against foreign influence, while accusing Western-backed NGOs of trying to stage a coup against the elected government. Tens of thousands of Georgians have taken to the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, to protest the move, while riot police have used tear gas and water cannons to try to disperse them, violently arresting activists and opposition politicians.

The U.S. State Department decision mirrors demands being put forward in draft bills presented in recent days in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. First reported by POLITICO, the two sets of proposed legislation called for the introduction of sanctions on Georgian Dream, as well as offering incentives in case the government drops its foreign agent bill.

In a statement, Georgian Dream has said the efforts amount to “blackmail,” and has urged the EU to begin accession talks with the country as it has with Ukraine and Moldova.

In an extraordinary move Thursday, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze accused the EU of threatening him with the fate of Slovak leader Robert Fico, who was shot earlier this month, and who Kobakhidze claimed was the target of a plot by intelligence services. The EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi has since issued a statement saying his words were taken “out of context.” Kobakhidze provided no evidence to substantiate his allegations, and the Georgian opposition has blasted them as “dubious conspiracy theories.”