Hundreds of Georgians protest as parliament set to advance ‘foreign agent’ bill

By Thomson Reuters Apr 15, 2024 | 5:25 AM

TBILISI (Reuters) – Several hundred protesters gathered outside the Georgian parliament on Monday as ruling party legislators on the judicial committee looked set to advance a controversial bill on “foreign agents” criticised by Western countries.

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

The bill has been criticised by European countries and the United States. The European Union, which gave Georgia candidate status in December, has said the move is incompatible with the bloc’s values.

Georgian critics have labelled it “the Russian law”, comparing it to similar legislation used by the Kremlin to crack down on dissent in Russia.

Russia is widely unpopular in Georgia, due to Moscow’s support for the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia defeated Georgia in a short war in 2008.

Georgian Dream, which says it wants the country to join the EU and NATO even as it has deepened ties with Moscow, says the bill is necessary to combat what it calls “pseudo-liberal values” imposed by foreigners, and to promote transparency.

Opposition parties and civil society organisation have called for a mass protest outside parliament on Monday evening.

Once approved by members of the legislature’s legal affairs committee, which is controlled by Georgian Dream and its allies, the bill can proceed to a first reading in parliament.

(Reporting by Felix Light in Tbilisi; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Trevelyan)