Georgia president to veto ‘foreign agent’ bill, aide tells local media

By Thomson Reuters Apr 8, 2024 | 9:49 AM

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili will veto a disputed draft law on “foreign agents”, a senior aide was cited by local media as saying on Monday, the day the bill was formally registered in parliament by the government.

The ruling Georgian Dream party said last week it would reintroduce legislation requiring organisations that accept funds from abroad to register as foreign agents or face fines, 13 months after major protests forced it to shelve the plan.

The United States and the European Union have criticised the return of the bill, which Georgian civil society groups have likened it to a law Russian President Vladimir Putin has used to crush dissent.

“The president will, of course, use her constitutional right and veto the said law,” Zourabichvili’s parliamentary secretary Giorgi Mskhiladze was quoted by Interpressnews as saying.

The president, whose powers are mostly ceremonial, can veto legislation to delay it, but the ruling party can override her veto.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said the purpose of the law was to ensure the financial transparency of NGOs. “Both non-transparency and censorship are completely unacceptable to us,” he was quoted by Georgian media as telling a government meeting.

The former Soviet republic’s opposition has called for mass demonstrations to oppose the bill’s passage through parliament.

A Reuters witness reported a small protest outside the parliament building in Tbilisi on Monday.

The bill has been dubbed “the Russian law” by critics in Georgia, a candidate for EU membership set to hold parliamentary elections in October.

Georgian media organisations slammed the bill in a joint statement published on Monday, saying it would be used to persecute journalists.

“With this law, we are rapidly moving from a mixed system of government to a firmly established authoritarianism,” the statement said.

(Reporting by Felix Light; writing by Lucy Papachristou; editing by Mark Heinrich)